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How to Foster Language and Literacy Development in the Spanish Classroom

In its basic form, translanguaging is a theory of language practice. And, as in any theory applied to practice, it offers a principled choice between theoretical interpretation and actual implementation (Marrero-Colon, 2021). In this sense, translanguaging is a pedagogical term used to describe the natural ways bilinguals use their languages in their everyday lives.


From this perspective, translanguaging represents a holistic and dynamic view of multilingualism (Otheguy, García, & Reid, 2019). In recent years, translanguaging has been receiving recognition in education, especially by those who believe that individuals naturally use their known languages to amplify their learning of other languages and academic content (Baker & Wright, 2017; Garcia & Wei, 2014). So the question here is: What is translanguaging when it is used as part of daily discourse, and how does it fit in as part of pedagogical practice?

Translanguaging as Part of Daily Bilingual Discourse

Translanguaging refers to the language practices of bilingual/multilingual individuals. It includes simultaneous use of two or more languages; engaging everyone in conversation whether they are familiar with all of the languages represented or not. The practice emphasizes the participants’ flexible use of their complex linguistic resources to make meaning of their lives and their complex communications (Garcia, 2014).

For example, consider a family reunion at the Rodriguez home, where several members get together to prepare a meal. Tía Carmen and Tío Ramón are speaking in Spanish, trying to figure out the ingredients needed. They call to Juan, Tania, and Michelle in Spanish to take out some of the ingredients for food preparation. Juan asks Tía Carmen in Spanish what she needs from the refrigerator. Michelle calls out in English that she has found the beans, but asks which variety. Tío Ramón calls out in Spanish that he wants the red beans. Tania uses a mixture of Spanish and English to ask Tía Carmen which condiments she wants, “Tía, what else do you need? I have the salt, adobo, y ajo. ¿Necesitas el vinagre, or just the oil?”  Their neighbor Russo walks in with the rotisserie chicken he has prepared for that evening, calling out greetings in Italian. Although no one in the house speaks Italian, they all call out excited greetings in either Spanish or English, knowing instinctively what Russo is saying. In this aspect, translanguaging takes the position that language is action and practice, not a discrete system of structures or sets of skills.

Translanguaging as Part of Pedagogical Practice

Translanguaging represents an approach to language pedagogy that affirms and leverages students’ diverse language practices in teaching and learning (Vogel & Garcia, 2017). According to Dr. Ofelia Garcia (2014), “Translanguaging refers to both the discourse practices of bilinguals, as well as to pedagogical practices that use the entire complex linguistic repertoire of bilingual students’ flexibly in order to teach rigorous content and develop language practices for academic use.”

In other words, translanguaging as pedagogy means that the teacher is aware that the linguistic capabilities of the students go much further than classroom language practices. The teacher knows that they can tap into the students’ knowledge base and capabilities as a resource, and that the students’ home language practices can be used to further learning. For example, Mrs. Nieves, a second-grade teacher, knows that her newcomers can count, add, and subtract in Spanish. She uses the content knowledge in the first language to bridge the vocabulary across their home language to the language of the same content in English. Here, the students will be able to express their math knowledge in both the home language and English.  Whether used as an active teaching methodology, or as a student support system, instructional translanguaging is always used deliberately and strategically.

Educators and researchers working collaboratively have begun to identify ways in which teachers can use bilingual instructional strategies to support this transfer process, both in order to increase students’ overall metalinguistic awareness and to promote academic development (Cummins, 2017). We need to remember that languages do transfer throughout the learning process, and literacy transfers across language systems (Cummins, 2017; Celic & Seltzer, 2012). So, what are the instructional implications for the use of both languages in the classroom?

One implication is represented by a paradigm shift in how the interconnection of language and content are regarded. Rather than seeing language and instruction as two separate, independent systems, this methodology views language as playing a strategic role in content mastery (Celic & Seltzer, 2012; Cummins, 2017; Garcia & Lin, 2017). There are some key advantages to translanguaging:

  1. It promotes a deeper and fuller understanding of the subject matter.
  2. It helps the development of the less dominant language.
  3. It facilitates home-school connections and cooperation.
  4. It allows the integration and collaboration of language learners from all proficiency levels.

Translanguaging facilitates cross-linguistic transfer and affords flexibility of first and second language use. It allows students and teachers to engage in complex conversational language practices that include all of the elements of language learning and use in order to develop new language practices. This allows students to maintain those practices already in place and communicate effectively in two or more languages, as well as gain knowledge and skills needed to succeed academically. Fundamentally, translanguaging promotes both L1 & L2 language development, while honoring the home languages and identities of the students.


By Marybelle Marrero-Colón

Watch the recording of Marybelle Marrero-Colón’s webinar, Translanguaging: Defining and Describing Its Use with Second Language Learners.

You Might Also Like: Empowering Multilingual Learners with Digital Resources



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