Understanding Translanguaging


Understanding Translanguaging

Speaking from Experience


Growing up on a farm in southern Ontario, Canada, with Portuguese parents who had recently immigrated, learning to communicate in two languages was a necessary part of life with parents and extended family. My four brothers and three sisters spoke only English at school (and with each other), my parents only spoke Portuguese to us, and many of the Portuguese immigrant workers on the farm also relied on their mother tongue. Since our Portuguese was nurtured through listening and speaking, but lacked any formal support, learning through “translanguaging” became a large part of communicating with our parents, extended family and colleagues.

Translanguaging is an approach to dual language learning. Using a dual language strategy, students develop social and academic vocabulary in both languages simultaneously and learners maintain strong mother tongue skills while acquiring their second language.

“Translanguaging”, acquiring language is an action and practice, and not a simple system of structures and discreet sets of skills. That’s why translanguaging uses an –ing form, emphasizing the action and practice of languaging bilingually.”

Christina Celic and Kate Seltzer (2011)

When translanguaging, learners adapt their language practice and improve communication and understanding of concepts. In classroom discourse, translanguaging is apparent as learners switch between languages in a fluid manner, communicating their general understanding, and thus deepening conceptual understandings. Celic and Seltzer explain that translanguaging builds flexibility, helping learners make meaning withintwo languages. Translanguaging learners are well on their way to being able to explain critical thinking and understanding, skills needed to confidently use dual languages in the workforce.


Allowing students to translanguage as they learn a second language allows them to express thinking and consolidate understanding as they navigate their way through learning academic language. The vocabulary that is lacking becomes evident to the teacher and student which gives immediate feedback and allows both to address vocabulary issues quickly. From experience I found I could quickly ask family members for the specific word I was lacking in Portuguese and by using it in context allowed me to internalize it and store it in memory for future use.

As a teacher in Canada with many multicultural students in my class, allowing students to translanguage helped them overcome communication barriers and helped me as a teacher understand what students were trying to express.

As we continue to develop our language programs at Origins Education, I am reminded of my own language learning experience. Translanguaging helps our language leaners express their ideas to the best of their ability. This is key when developing our dual language immersion Chinese and English program.