Rewriting the rules of language learning: Translanguaging

Rewriting the rules of language learning: Translanguaging

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Translanguaging is a developing programme at The British School in The Netherlands, where teachers are trained in best practices, ensuring that all of the students at the BSN are having the best possible learning experience.

In our multicultural world, identities build on one another. A person can be born in one country but call many countries home, in the same way that they can celebrate the traditions of their home culture whilst also taking part in those of others. Growing up internationally is an exceptional experience that influences every child’s identity in a unique way.

It is a challenge but also an enormous learning opportunity. The multicultural mind-set that can be gained by learning how others communicate is something that enriches expat children’s time at school, as well as their view of themselves and the world.

What is translanguaging?

One important way to incorporate this goal into day-to-day teaching and learning is through translanguaging. This is a model of language learning which allows the student to grow their school language skills whilst at the same time accessing, developing and making connections with their mother tongue or home language.

It is a mindset that goes beyond the language classroom, integrating language learning with all school subjects and encouraging students to access their multilingual abilities to express themselves throughout their school day.

At BSN, for example, over 60 percent of students speak a language other than English at home, and over 35 language groups are represented. Translanguaging is then key to ensuring that students have the best possible learning experience.

In a more traditional model of language learning, a student may have been discouraged from speaking their home language whilst at school. They may have been pulled out of their regular class time to take remedial English classes if they were deemed unable to participate at the desired level.

As students may be able to express themselves more integrally in their home language rather than in simplified English, translanguaging allows them to share their ideas and participate more confidently in class. Students can decide for themselves in which language they want to think and plan.

For example, pupils with a language in common may be given opportunities to plan investigations in their home language, thus increasing their technical vocabulary, before presenting their investigation to the class in English. Pride in one’s cultural identity and confidence in one’s knowledge and ability to participate in the curriculum should be given room to grow.

Parents whose children are using this method often give great feedback on the method: “[My daughter] had the freedom to work in English or Spanish – or both. It was so good for her self-esteem. She felt like she had choices, not limitations on her languages. Translanguaging has given a depth to [her] language that I did not expect.”

Students sharing a dual language story, read in Arabic by one student and translated into English by a classmate.

Students using their languages to understand a lesson about transportation.

Expanding multilingualism

The benefits of translanguaging are not lost on native English speakers. As we are living in the Netherlands, even students who speak English as their home language are active language learners. They are encouraged to use their Dutch alongside English on a day-to-day basis.

Making sure multicultural aspects are integrated into every class nurtures a heightened cultural awareness and respect for differences between all members of the international community and makes sure each student knows that their unique identities, families and backgrounds are valued.

Translanguaging is an important tool for expanding rather than restricting multilingualism and cultural identity, while still delivering excellent EAL education. This method is on the cutting-edge of language learning.

For more information about the translanguaging learning method, follow the BSN English as an Additional Language team on Twitter here: @BSN_EAL or contact The British School in The Netherlands via the button below.

Claire McGuire


Claire McGuire

Communications, content creation and cultural heritage professional based in the Netherlands. I currently work as the Social Media Specialist at the British School in the Netherlands, creating compelling content and...

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