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date: 13 December 2017


This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education. Please check back later for the full article.

Translanguaging is a theoretical lens that offers a different view of bilingualism. The theory posits that rather than possessing two or multiple autonomous language systems, bilinguals, multilinguals, and indeed, all users of language, have a unitary repertoire from which they select and deploy particular features to make meaning and to negotiate particular communicative contexts. Translanguaging also represents an approach to pedagogy, especially for bilingual learners, that affirms and leverages students’ diverse and dynamic language practices in teaching and learning.

Translanguaging theory builds on scholarly work that has demonstrated how colonial and modernist-era language ideologies created and maintained linguistic, cultural, and racial hierarchies in society. Translanguaging seeks to intentionally challenge those ideologies as well as prevailing theories of bilingualism and bilingual language development in order to disrupt the hierarchizations that have delegitimized the language practices of bilinguals as well as bilingual pedagogies.

Some aspects of the definition of translanguaging have changed over time, as the theory has been applied in various research and practice contexts. Concepts within translanguaging theory have also been deepened, built upon, or clarified as scholars compare and contrast it with competing and complementary theories of bilingualism, and related terms. Scholars debate aspects of the theory’s definition and epistemological foundations. There are also continued debates between scholars who have largely embraced translanguaging and those who resist the theory’s premises or have only partially accepted them.

Although the sociolinguistic and psycholinguistic position of translanguaging remains controversial, its use in education has created the most interest (and the most disagreement). Educators who are committed to eradicating bilingualism see translanguaging pedagogy as threat—a way of “sneaking in” bilingualism in education. Other educators, who are committed to developing bilingualism, fear that translanguaging may destroy the diglossic arrangements and language separation that have been accepted by educators and policymakers as necessary for language maintenance.

Translanguaging as a sociolinguistic and psycholinguistic theory has much to contribute to our understandings of the languaging of bilinguals, as it privileges bilingual performances, not just monolingual ones. As a pedagogical practice, translanguaging leverages the fluid bilingualism of learners in ways that deepen their engagement with and comprehension of complex content and texts. In addition, translanguaging pedagogy develops both of the named languages that are the object of bilingual instruction precisely because it considers them in a horizontal continuum as part of the learners’ linguistic repertoire, rather than as separate compartments in a hierarchical relationship.