By Prof. Dr. Libby Meintjes
Language Policy Adviser,
Deputy Vice-Chancellor’s Office,
University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.
The Welsh term trawsieithu, subsequently translated as translanguaging, was initially coined by Cen William to refer to the ‘pedagogical practice of deliberately switching the language of input (reading or listening) and the language of output (speaking or writing) in bilingual classrooms’ (Mazzaferro 2018). In the Welsh context translanguaging was used as a form of bilingual teaching (Welsh and English) of content and to develop pupils’ proficiencies in both Welsh and English. Since then translanguaging has become more widely used internationally in secondary and tertiary education. Earlier assumptions that that bilinguals and multilinguals use their language repertoires discretely and independently of each other, with language interference seen as detracting from learning, have given way to insights into the advantages of multilingualism. Multilingual speakers are now understood to make use their full language repertoires to communicate, understand and learn.
Translanguaging can best be described as a dynamic pedagogical tool allowing movement between the various languages represented in the discussion and integration of these multiple languages in the communication and learning process. Languages are used in a structured and functional manner to uncover and mediate the mental processes of meaning making operating in the brains of multilingual (and monolingual) speakers by surfacing and voicing these largely unconscious processes. In this way, students draw on their multiple language and epistemological competencies to co-construct meaning. A more thorough and deep understanding of concepts and content is promoted through voicing and inscription (writing) in different languages, supporting and accelerating the cognition process. The process of translanguaging uses various cognitive processing skills, such as listening, reading, analysing, assimilating information and selecting relevant information from that stored in our brain. All of these are pertinent to the process of acquiring knowledge. Translanguaging has the advantage, too, of being student-centred with the lecturers or tutors being a co-learner who is able to adjust their teaching to student needs.
In addition to the cognitive advantages translanguaging brings in terms of maximising and broadening understanding and enhancing language learning, it also has certain socio-cultural benefits such as ‘rebalancing’ the traditional hierarchies of dominant languages versus other languages, enabling students’ ‘voices’ to be heard leading to more balanced and inclusive interaction among the participants, and removing some of the inhibitory barriers to creative participation. It also opens the student group to the experiences of others, reshaping their own experiences and exposing them to the possibility of different ways of understanding, new knowledge and other epistemologies.
Lewis, Gwyn; Jones, Bryn & Baker, Colin. 2012. Translanguaging: origins and development from school to street and beyond. Educational Research and Evaluation, (18) 7, 641–654,
Mazzaferro, Gerardo (Ed). 2018. Translanguaging as Everyday Practice. Multilingual Education Vol. 7. New York: Springer. Doi:10.1007/978-3-319-94851-5.
Williams, Cen. 1994. Arfarniad o ddulliau dysgu ac addysgu yng nghyd-destun addysg uwchradd
sdwyieithog, [An evaluation of teaching and learning methods in the context of bilingual secondary
education]. (Unpublished doctoral thesis). Bangor: University of Wales.
Williams, Cen. 1996. Secondary education: Teaching in the bilingual situation. In C. Williams,
G. Lewis & C. Baker (Eds.), The language policy: Takings stock. Llangefni: CAI.