“In a multilingual classroom, students not only bring their different languages to the classroom, but they bring their families as well”. After the class, these words have continued to resonate in my mind. I have a feeling that this sentence is meaningful in education but I was a little confused why students can bring their family to the classroom. Now I have an answer. I think the sentence means that students’ knowledge are shaped by their families, community, and cultural histories. Teachers are supposed to build on students’ diverse family-shaped knowledge (including language) to conduct their teaching practice. This understanding makes me realize that translanguaging may be a better answer to a multilingual classroom. To support this idea, I also want to share my former experience both as a teacher and a student.
Translanguaging: from a teacher’s perspective
Last summer, I taught writing in an English-immersion program. I had asked all the students in my class—where instruction was in English—to choose a story and translate it into their native language. This class comprised one of the most linguistically diverse groups I had ever taught. For most of my students, English was their second or third language and yet they used it beautifully.So I was surprised to discover that this assignment requiring them to write in the language they had first spoken was especially difficult. Like Frank, many students found it nearly impossible to complete.
Frank is one of the students who was greatly struggling with his assignment. He had already chosen an adult story, involving a little violence. He was in my office every week, but unable to make any progress. Finally, I asked him to find what the root of his problem was. He thought for a moment and then lit up.
“The problem,” he explained, “is that this is a very dark story and Chinese is just not that kind of language.”
I asked him what he meant.
“You see,” he replied. “Chinese is a very sweet and bright language.”
I smiled. Actually it’s not the language that was sweet and beautiful. It was the 10-year-old boy who stopped using it when he learned a new one. It was me who as a believer of immersion pedagogy, never allow my students to communicate by their L1 in the classroom. From that moment, I began to aware that maybe translanguaging is not an indication of poor proficiency of L2, but a strategy which scaffolds students’ L2 learning and more importantly, enables them to know the intersection and interaction among languages.
Translanguaging: from a student’s perspective
My belief that translanguaging is better than immersion is strengthened during the time I learned French. I registered for a French-immersion course. Teacher and students are only obligated to speak French in the school. Even if I try desperately to participate more in the classroom, I still found that most of time I was saying “Oui and “Pardon”. Students in the class sometimes even keep silent. We just listened to the teacher’s talking and didn’t know when and how to respond. The class is fairly teacher-oriented.
After that, I was transferred to another program where the teacher is a Chinese and she taught us both in English, French and Chinese. I don’t know how to express my feeling in this class in contrast to the former one. It is a mixed feeling of a sense of security, equality, encouraging. I communicated more with the teacher and classmates and even found I’m more confident in learning French. A classroom of translanguaging is more student-centered.
With the increasing experience I had in a multilingual classroom, my attitudes changed greatly towards the translanguaging. On my part, translanguaging is more beneficial for both students and teachers in a multilingual settings. My question is if monolingual teachers can adopt translanguaging strategy in their classroom. I remember my classmate said teachers don’t need to speak all the languages of their students. I agree on this statement and I suddenly come up with an extreme situation. If a teacher can only speak one language, can he or she use translanguaging pedagogy?