Is Translanguaging an Ideal Method to Use in an ESL or FSL classroom?

Posted by Cheryl Lingjuan Yan (Post #3)

Translanguaging has had a forceful impact on the field of Applied Linguistics. It also has contributed greatly to our understandings of language, bilingualism and education (Garcia & Wei, 2013). Translanguaging is such a powerful method of language teaching, that it has been applied widely into a great number of ESL or FSL classrooms by language teachers. It reminds me of how a second language classroom is like in China. Learning English is mandatory in the Chinese Education system starting from the 3rd grade in elementary school through college. As a Chinese student, I acquired English as a second language since 9 years old. I remember when I was learning English, teachers did the code-switching all the time. Of course he/she would speak English in class in order to make us get more English exposure, but the good part is he/she would switch back to Mandarin as long as we had something hard to understand. English, to many L2 learners in China, represents a better future, more job opportunities and higher living standard. Therefore, people in China really have a strong motivation in learning it. Doubtlessly, it is not only in China, thanks to English’s dominant stance in in almost all facets in our society, such as politics, economy, education, etc. L2 English users continue and will continue to grow, far exceeding the the number of native English speakers.

In contrast, a classroom of an immersion program in Montreal is very different, and the teacher will explain everything in the target language. Some friends, including me, in our class have registered for French courses this semester, most of which are French immersion programs, and mine is not an exception. The teacher explains everything in French only. Therefore, it is really a challenge for non-French speakers to stick to it. Sometimes I failed even to follow my French instructor. The main problem, in my opinion, may be the vocabulary. The immersion program will only be effective when students involved can at least have a basic idea what the whole class is talking about. In that way, they can learn from each other’s ideas, do peer-correct activities, etc. I have  a bunch of friends telling me that they think it would be more helpful to have an instructor in their first language or English. Perhaps using an immersion program is an effective method to facilitate students’ language learning to some extent indeed, but as far as I am concerned, all these assumptions are based on one precondition–students involved should have already had a good foundation of vocabulary concerning the target language. Without a solid foundation of that, it is relatively hard to be fully inclusive in a classroom of an immersion program.

From my perspective, whether it’s effective to use code-switching in ESL or FSL classrooms, depends on student’s proficiency of the target language for sure, but also on student’s motivation in learning it. For example, if a student really has a strong motivation to learn a language, despite the fact that his/her language proficiency may not be good enough at first, he/she will spontaneously put a lot of effort into learning it him/herself. In that case, he/she will be able to keep pace with the whole class in almost no time. Students in that case, therefore, are an exception in learning a language. On the contrary, if a student’s language proficiency is not desirable, and he/she does not have a motivation to improve it at all. That would be even harder for him/her to acquire that language. Thus, these students’ failure to learn is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In conclusion, basically, on the one hand, for students with stronger motivation and higher proficiency, it is fine for them to go for an immersion program. But on the other hand, for students whose language proficiency is not good enough and do not really have a strong desire in learning the target language, teachers should be comfortable to use translanguaging during the class. Perhaps it would help to cope with this issue.


García, O., & Wei, L. (2013). Translanguaging: Language, bilingualism and education. Springer.

4 thoughts on “Is Translanguaging an Ideal Method to Use in an ESL or FSL classroom?”

  1. Hi Cheryl,
    I really appreciate the contrast you provided between the approaches that shaped your language learning experienced in China (where Mandarin was used to clarify meanings) and in Montreal (where there was a strict French-only approach). That said, as you made clear, the role of translanguaging in class is dependent on many factors. It seems I’ve been mulling over translanguaging pedagogy quite a bit myself these days, so I’d like to share with you a blog post I wrote on the BILD (Belonging, Identity, Language, Diversity) group’s blog a few days ago:

    Thanks for bringing your perspectives and experiences to this ongoing and important conversation about language pedagogy.



  2. Géraldine Gras (comment 2):
    Thank you for sharing you experience Cheryl. I agree with you when you state that the choice to use code-switching in the classroom is a not pre-determined role, one must take into account the context, the learners and various other factors. Similar to you, I also registered for a second language class (I did so at UdeM over the summer). My experience was actually very pleasant. I hadn’t been in a Spanish second language class in over five years. I studied Spanish from sec 3 to sec 5 but never felt comfortable speaking aloud. My teachers sometimes used French however, I was not very interested in learning the language therefore I acquired the basics – in 3 years. Last summer, over an eight week intensive course, I felt comfortable speaking. Our professor used French to introduce new grammatical features and we then applied them using the target language. I was a lot more motivated to (finally) acquire some concrete skills in Spanish and code-switching permitted me to understand HOW to use language appropriately.

    As a teacher though, I always have that fear that students will disregard the target language of the classroom, if I engage in code-switching.


  3. Maxime – Comment 6


    Translanguaging is a complex concept to wrap one’s head around in an educational setting. The issue most have with the concept stems from our conception of language. Because people see languages as separate entities, it is expected that they be learned as such. In a classroom, and for a teacher who must meet certain curriculum goals, it is difficult to blur the lines of language when the lines are so clear in the ways students are assessed. From my own research into and understanding of translanguaging, it is apparently quite useful in certain settings. Consider the following example:

    In an ESL classroom, students are tasked with writing an English text. To start, they must work in groups to discuss the ideas necessary to write the text. They do this in whatever language they are most comfortable with. Then, they go back to their places and begin to write an outline, using English where they already know what they want to say, and another language they are comfortable with to fill in the gaps or elaborate. Finally, the students proceed to write their text in English.

    In this example, the students are allowed to use language as they see fit to organize their ideas and plan their text. This is but one of many small ways in which you can use translanguaging to help students with their language learning. I don’t know how effective this method is, nor if it is pedagogically sound. I need to try it!


  4. Shengwen Xu (comment #1)

    Hello, Cheryl

    Actually I have both experiences of translanguaging teaching and immersion language teaching. Just as you, I have my English classes from primary school on, and my teachers used to code-switching a lot. Also, when I began to teach ESL classes, I adopted the same way, using translanguaging a lot. According to my experiences and what I have noticed from my students, since the teacher uses the mother language for quite a lot of time in class, the students tend to first come up with ideas in his mother language, and then translate it into the target language. I think the good part is the teacher can explain some difficult language points in students’ mother language and this saves some time in class, but if the teacher couldn’t control the amount of mother language used in class, the students may not get enough language exposure.

    On the other hand, when I learned Spanish in my university, our department tried to develop an immersion language program. Therefore, from the first class on, we had Spanish-speaking teachers. We communicated only in Spanish in class. In this way, I did find my Spanish listening and reading improving quickly. But I think the shortcoming may be in the grammar learning. Because some language points are not easy to explain by only giving examples in Spanish. Therefore, I had to turn to a Chinese-speaking teacher or looked them up in a dictionary.

    Therefore, as for me, both these two ways of teaching have their advantages and disadvantages, I think a teacher should decide which way is better for his or her specific teaching objectives.


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