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CATESOL Book Review: Envisioning TESOL through a Translanguaging Lens, Global Perspectives (Part 1)

Michelle Skowbo

Book Review – Envisioning TESOL through a Translanguaging Lens, Global Perspectives
By Zhongfeng Tian, Laila Aghai, Peter Sayer & Jamie L. Schissel Editors

By Liza E. Martinez and Kara Mac Donald 

Translanguaging is a somewhat new concept in linguistics and ELT, establishing presence in the early 2000s as means to discredit the notion in many western monolingual communities that the brain processes different languages separately. The term has been used to describe the use of multiple languages in a single situation. For ELT, translanguaging describes teaching students to become bilingual or multilingual through the use of two or more languages. This is a departure from former ESL paradigms that focused instruction on one language and excluded any other/s. This edited volume truly explores the practice of translanguaging in the ESL/EFL classroom across the global context, with contributions from authors in a multitude of instructional contexts and countries.

Envisioning TESOL through a Translanguaging Lens in the Era of Post-multilingualism

By Zhongfeng Tian, Laila Aghai, Peter Sayer & Jamie L. Schissel

Chapter 1 sets the purpose and scope of the text, highlighting that the field of ELT is still larging informed the hegemony of the English language, the notion of native-speakerism, English-only policy, and other ideologies and practices that do not value and/or draw on the linguistics diversity of ELLs (bilingual English speakers, monolingual (e.g. Spanish) speaking English learners) and dialectal English speakers (e.g. African American and Latinx English speakers).

The authors state that the book’s content presents an examination of translanguaging on three levels, unpacking what it means (the term), theoretical underpinnings (the research) and instructional practices (the pedagogy) as means to contribute to the work on social justice and the promotion of diversity, equity, and inclusion. The discussion starts with the recent changes in the mobility of individuals for various reasons and the resulting dynamic multilingual contexts and societies that exist, resulting in the ‘post-multilingualism era’ that we are in. A description of what ‘translanguaging as a descriptive lens' is presented, which is understood as the entire collection of linguistics practices and processes for meaning-making used for communication across contexts. The focus is placed on agency and action of multilingual speakers and how they see and define their language use, opposed to being evaluated through monolingual English standards.

Next, the second level, theoretical underpinnings is explored, highlighting work that argues that multilingual speakers draw from one linguistic system (i.e. not two or more separate language structures), possess and utilize linguistic and semiotic practices that are not aligned solely to one language or country, and acknowledges the presence of social constructs and language ideologies that have influence multilingual speakers.

The discussion around the third level, instructional practices, highlights a distinction between translanguaging’s initial understanding as switching language input and output to where it is understood as encompassing the way in which students and teachers use fluid discursive practices. 

The book is dense with an immense amount of information and guidance presented in three sections: Theorizing Translanguaging in TESOL, Translanguaging in TESOL Teacher Education, Translanguaging in TESOL Classrooms. To make its content more accessible, the book review with be published in a two part series (i.e. November and December CATESOL Blog Book Review postings).

In this November posting, a review of Part I: Theorizing Translanguaging in TESOL and Part II: Translanguaging in TESOL Teacher Education are shared.

Part I: Theorizing Translanguaging in TESOL


Broadening the View: Taking up a Translanguaging Pedagogy with All Language-Minoritized Students

By Kate Selter and Ofelia Garcia
Chapter 2 opens with an account of a high school classroom of multilingual/multidialectal students and the activity the teacher conducted on the first day of school, where students were asked to discussion the role of their multilingualism, how it opens/closes door for them, how it intersect with their identity and the value of multilingual practices. This account serves as a segway to outlining the chapter’s focus: what translanguaging can offer the field of ELT that serves marginalized students that have language practices different from what is labeled as ‘correct’ historically/currently by the field. As a result, it examines misconceptions of proper English and bilingualism/multilingualism.

The chapter returns to the classroom opening account which describes the three aspects of translanguaging pedagogy: stance, design, shifts. The stance is the teaching philosophy and beliefs that inform a teacher’s work and interaction with ELLs. The design consists of the layout of the classroom, curriculum and instructional practices used. The shifts are the adaptation and choices a teacher makes while teaching to engage and support language use and learning for ELLs.

Because of the dynamic multilingual populations we have in our society and classroom, ELT needs to draw on post-structuralist sociolinguistic work to meet  ELLs’ needs and disrupt conventional language ideologies and practices. English is termed as *English (translanguaging English), which encompasses three principles. First, *English is not a closed language system as defined by English, contrasting between prescriptive and descriptive uses of English. Second, all speakers do languaging: social, linguistic, and semiotic practices used in communication. Third, the different aspects (linguistic, social, emotional) of a speaker’s language are inseparable.

The chapter ends by examining the aforementioned high school classroom and its implication on TESOL as a field providing space for acknowledging and fostering linguistics diversity.

The Need for Translanguaging in TESOL

By Sabrina F. Sembiante and Zhongfeng Tian
Chapter 3 describes the reality of scholars and educators establishing footing in the field of TESOL in establishing a foundational space for valuing diverse linguistic repertoires and the associated translanguaging pedagogy but argues for the need to explore the resistance towards this goal in the TESOL International Association. The authors cite that TESOl as a field still clings to monolingual English-speaking standards in teaching and assessing ELLs.

The authors then present a historical recap of a bumpy history with respect to bilingual and multilingualism in TESOL, starting with a noteworthy conflict between the directors of TESOL and National Association of Bilingual Education (NABE) in the 1960s, its collaboration over time, and ultimately the two associations’ departure. Additional accounts from the 1990s and early to mid-2000s are shared summarizing TESOL’s position on bilingual education with examples of the organization engaging with bilingualism/multilingualism. However, the authors state that TESOL journals still focus on publications and pedagogy regarding monolingual English-speaking standards, perpetuating the hegemonic role of English.

As a result, the authors argue for the value of translanguaging and call for a repositioning the focus not on English Speakers of Other Languages, but rather Speakers of Other Languages (SOL). Additionally, they call for an examination of the ‘T’ (Teaching), with a call to eliminate it, as there is a need to educate current and future teachers in supporting SOLs. The chapter unpacks the ‘E’(English) with respect to translanguaging and explores translanguaging and SOLs, followed by a deeper reflection on the ‘T’ (Teaching). The chapter wraps up where it began; the lack of traction that translanguaging and *English have in TESOL and its implications.

Framing the Realities of TESOL Practice Through a Translanguaging Lens

By Graham Hall
Chapter 4 recaps the history of monolingual TESOL practices and highlights the shift in the 1990s to a context which drew on socio-cultural and socio-linguistic views to expand the field’s pedagogy. The author shares that although TESOL as a field and an institution were underpinned by monolingual assumptions, the realities of instructional practice in ELT across the globe were leveraging the bi-lingual and multi-lingual resources of ELLs. As a consequence, the chapter examines how the field and related literature disregarded multilingual pedagogies and evidence of the use of such practice and calls for continuing discussion with respect to teacher training programs and professional development events.

The discussion begins with reviewing definitions of translanguaging and establishing one for readers, which has been defined in part in previous chapter reviews in the book review. The author, like others in this volume, moves to examining  the history of ELT teaching methodologies, the fads, and the process of ebbs and flows in finding the ‘best method’, and that throughout it all the notion that all classroom activities should take place in English was a given pillar of effective teaching. Considerations otherwise were not discussed or even contemplated. However, with recent shifts in societal, immigration and transnational realities, it is likely that many, or most, speakers of English will not speak English to L1 English speakers. As a result, the objectives of teaching and learning English are being reconstructed towards a pedagogy and field that serves the realities and needs of learners.

The chapter closes with accounts of translanguaging globally, as evidence that the field as an institution, propped up by association leadership, research and publication, is behind in what has already been established as practice in classrooms.

Part II: Translanguaging in TESOL Teacher Education

No, Professor, That Is Not True”: First Attempts at Introducing Translanguaging to Pre-Service Teachers

By Elena Andreai, Amnada K. Kibler, and April S. Salerno
Chapter 5 describes a pre-service, teacher trainer’s experiences in introducing translanguaging to teachers in training, with significantly different views on its use in classrooms with ELLs. They share effective means to expand the acceptance and practice of translanguaging. The authors present a review of the associated literature, highlighting that works fail to examine the ways in which teachers and teachers-in-training navigate  the concepts and practices of code-switching and translanguaging.

The authors conducted a narrative inquiry study with an assistant professor in a U.S. TESOL program, drawing on the methodology’s positioning of teachers as inquirers and instructional program developers, collecting accounts of classroom practice and curriculum content. The authors begin by describing the first time the word translanguaging was presented in the course, where students were asked to share what they knew about it and what they wanted to learn about, but received significant resistance to its definition and how it differs from code-switching. In particular, students argued that language is stored separately and accessed through two different linguistic repertoires.  As the professor’s counter arguments and explanations proceeded, she realized on the spot a slight, but significant distinction, may have been overlooked. She considered how context matters. Code-switching is used when an individual is obligated to use an also bilingual interlocutor’s dominant language with switches to the other. Translanguaging is when an emerging bilingual/multi-dialectal speaker interacts with someone with similar linguistic resources, and they pick and choose the language/dialect for a communicative purpose. This brought clarity for students. Accounts of similar discussions mid-course and late in the course are also shared, followed by implications for teacher training.

Reenvisioning Second Language Teacher Education Through Translanguaging Praxis

By Matthew R. Deroo, Christina M. Ponzio, and Peter I. De Costa
Chapter 6 starts the discussion by describing the lack of alignment between educators’ linguistic profiles and instructional views, and the socio-linguistic and needs of the students they serve. The authors, like those previous chapters, call for a change in the field and specifically in teacher training programs to better support them in addressing the needs of students’ language learning, while addressing possibly hidden perceptions of marginalized/racialized students with different cultural and language backgrounds. To support this endeavor, they draw from research in the field and their own work to examine the issues surrounding a monolingual English language lens in the field of TESOL, promoting an acceptance of diversity. In the chapter, they specifically examine a project conducted in the teacher training program in which teachers in training examine their former perceptions of teaching English and the emerging one that incorporates translanguaging as a concept and as a practice. The authors share two student cases from the 124 participants, along with a description of data collection and analysis. For each case study, they describe the background of the learner key data that emerged during each student’s coursework and fieldwork.

The two participants selected represent two opposite ends of the spectrum on translanguaging as a starting point, but the authors document each individual’s development towards understanding translanguaging as a valuable practice because of the coursework activities (i.e. research activities). The first case study participant was an elementary language arts major, taking an undergraduate TESOL minor. She initially held a view that a mono-lingual English approach in the classroom was necessary for successful language acquisition. After researching  on translanguaging, supported by course discussions and self-reflection on her experience as a Spanish as foreign language learner, she came to understand the value of translanguaging to support often diverse student cultural and linguistic backgrounds. 

The second participant was a high school social studies teacher,  enrolled in a post-graduate TESOL program and supported the use of multiple languages in the classroom and rejected the practice of a monolingual English classroom. However, with experience and understanding of translanguaging as an instructional approach, she viewed it as a new teaching methodology.  Again, course readings supported by discussions and self-reflection permitted the participant to understand fully translanguaging as a concept and an instructional practice.

The chapter closes with recommendations for course design, with examples for structuring and implementing teacher training coursework and fieldwork from a translanguaging stance.

Learning to Teach English for Justice from a Translanguaging Orientation

By Elizabeth Robinson Zhongfeng, Elie Crief and Maria Lins Prado
Chapter 7 describes a study that explores undergraduate TESOL students' understanding of translanguaging, as well as interaction of cultural and linguistic power, and if coursework enables them to teach for justice at a moment in U.S. history of heightened racial and ethnic turmoil. The chapter begins with a discussion of the connection between language, culture and power and the responsibility to promote justice through teaching. In  turn, the authors argue for the use of the term ‘justice’ is to broaden the scope of western social justice parameters and to consider justice for former colonized countries and/or indigenous populations and to move beyond the work as a theory or concept, but one that is impeded in instructional practice. The authors argue that teachers should be alerted to identify practices or models that maintain inequalities and offer practices and instruction that provide for all learners, and translanguaging as a pedagogy is part of achieving this. They offer an operational tool that has guided their teaching English for justice (i.e. recognizing inequalities, critiquing inequitable practices, and practicing inclusive teaching).

The chapter then shifts to a description of the study examining how students in an undergraduate TESOL course use translanguaging. The research team origins are described, highlighting the diversity of their socio-cultural and linguistic backgrounds. The study context is in a state where teachers of all content areas are required to be certified in Sheltered English Immersion (SEI) to work with English learners. The TESOL course in which the study took place was developed in support of this requirement, and the reason for the inclusion of translanguaging as part of the course content was to give students experiencing creating spaces for translanguaging. They identified four principal areas in the participants’ understanding of the connection between translanguaging and language, culture, and power. Participants viewed translanguaging as a set of instructional strategies, understood language as related to translanguaging, showed appreciation for different cultures and recognized the existence of power relationships. The authors expand on each of these outcomes, followed by a discussion of implications.

Pedagogical Sismo: Translanguaging Approaches for English Language Instruction and Assessment in Oaxaca, Mexico

By Julio Morales, Jamie L. Schissel and Mario Lopez-Gopar
Chapter 8 examines a translanguaging project conducted in a TESOL teacher training program, where participants are both learners of English and teacher-in-training. The chapter begins with an explanation of participatory action research (PAR), the framework used for the study of in-service teachers. The authors share the selection of PAR resulted in continual collaboration through communication and instructional planning and required a strong sense of trust. Their work is informed by a critical ethnographic methodology where researchers engage with, and not only observe participants. Then there is an overview of the project and the regional context and the university where the study took place. The authors share that multiculturalism and multilingualism are common in Oaxaca, although small in size, it consists of 16 ethnic groups with over a 100 Indigenous.

The following section is a personal narrative of one of the authors’ experiences, where he reflects on his English language learning experiences and what directly and indirectly taught him about being an English teacher. He highlights that at the time the perception of and the use of an English only policy was the esteemed model. Later in a master’s course, this author shares his experience of being asked to reflect on translanguaging in his experience. He realized that he and others drew on their shared language of Spanish as well as English in his communities and in class; he remained reluctant to adopt it for his instruction for many reasons. One in particular was that assessments remained in English only. He shares collaboration with the two other project contributors, at which point he became more comfortable with the pedagogical benefits of translanguaging.  Finally, the authors share a description of a project developing assessments incorporating translanguaging, the learning outcomes and implications.

Incorporating Australian Primary Students' Linguistic Repertoire into Teaching and Learning

By Marianne Turner
Chapter 9 revisits the idea that ESL speakers should be taught through the monolingual, assimilationist stance of English instruction. As such, this can threaten the maintenance of students’ first languages. A qualitative study was conducted in the Australian state of Victoria. Seven elementary school teachers (six women and one man) participated; all of them but one was monolingual. The learner participants were mostly ESL students from diverse language backgrounds; there were some monolingual English speakers. In total, three elementary classes participated. To prepare for the study, the teachers attended a three-day workshop. The goal was for them to create two bi/multilingual English language art lessons through a translanguaging pedagogy. The lessons varied; in one class, students taught fellow classmates how to say hello in their language. In another class, students received help from their family to write about animals that were indigenous to their home countries.  Different research data were collected: individual and group reflections, lesson plans, student work, and end-of-project teacher interviews. Twenty-one students were also interviewed. The data were analyzed through a thematic analysis. It was found that teachers’ views of what it meant to be bi/multilingual changed during the study. At first, the teachers thought that being bi/multilingual simply involved speaking a minority language. The teachers learned that reading and writing in English were equally important. Translanguaging  affirmed students’ bi/multilingual identities. The teachers were able to incorporate students’ first languages into lessons even if they didn’t speak their students’ first languages.  Nevertheless, there was a drawback. Teaching curriculum content through a translanguaging pedagogy was more conceptually challenging than simply affirming students’ bi/multiculturalism. The two teachers who were successful with translanguaging were able to create lessons that tapped into students’ “metalinguistic and cross-linguistic awareness” (p. 199). The article ends by noting how translanguaging allows students to use all of their language repertoires. 

Translanguaging as a Decolonization Project?: Malawian Teachers’ Complex and Competing Desires for Local Languages and Global English 

By Sunny Man Chu Lau
Chapter 10 involved an action research study set in Malawi, Africa. There were 13 participants in the study. Three were Malawian elementary school teachers while three were Malawian principals. There were also seven volunteers; four were university graduate students from China while three were university students from Canada. All of them participated in one-hour professional development sessions for 10 days. The participants examined such topics as language, race and identity, neocolonialism, neoliberalism and translanguaging. The goal was to have the participants work collaboratively and examine the influences that neocolonialism has had in terms of language policy, native English-speaker teachers, and the dominance of English-only instruction; translanguaging was also presented. The participants worked in triads with a Malawian educator, a Canadian volunteer, and a Chinese volunteer. During the professional development sessions, the triads also team-taught at local schools during regular school hours. The lessons tapped into what the participants were learning in their professional development sessions, such as translanguaging pedagogy. For example, one teacher used gestures and facial expressions to show meaning. Another used students’ native language, Chichewa, during group discussions. Later, when it came time to present a role-play to the class, the teacher allowed the students to use Chichewa. As such, the students and teachers were co-creating meaning. Another teacher used both English and Chichewa to teach shapes to her third-grade class. The next day, she had students use their bodies to create shapes. 
At the end of the professional development sessions, the participants expressed a positive view toward translanguaging. Lau admits that mastery of translanguaging pedagogy will take longer than the 10 days of professional development the participants had. 
One area that concerned Lau was the teachers’ mindset. For him, they continued to show a colonial mentality; they were deferring knowledge and authority to those from the “Global North”: he and the volunteers. Lau notes that there is a delicate balance that African countries face. While they want to maintain their countries’ ethnolinguistic realities and identities, they also want to be a part of the global community. This means mastering English. Is translanguaging the answer?  Lau warns that translanguaging could be used to foster the continued oppression of indigenous people. To prevent this, Westerners need to be guided by critical awareness when they work on a decolonization project.  

Wrap Up to Part I and Part II

The authors laid out the development of translanguaging in TESOL. They  advocate for a move away from an English-only classroom policy, with the the adoption of a practiced-based approach, to teaching English based on a descriptive language lens.
Please keep abreast on the CATESOL Blog regular monthly Book Reviews. The review of Part III of the text is slated for publication in the December issue of the CATESOL Blog Book Review.