Teachers’ perception on translanguaging

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Translanguaging is a relatively new and developing concept which was first coined by Cen Williams, a widely recognized and referenced expert in bilingual education and translanguaging. The first idea of translanguaging, specified by Williams, was to alternate between two languages in receptive and productive use. This has been developed into using all languages dynamically to get a deeper meaning and understanding in all those languages (Lewis et al., 2012). García (2009) describes translanguaging as a practice where bilinguals/multilinguals participate to make more sense of their world, and she argues for the importance of it in all teaching and learning, not only regarding language. García (2009) continues that globalization is a challenge for countries since children more often speak other languages than those of the country they live in. This in turn is a challenge for educational systems as well as for integrating immigrants into the society. García (2009) advocates translanguaging for educational purposes because monolingual approaches take little account of how languages are used in society and by bilinguals and multilinguals. According to Baker (Lewis et al., 2012) four educational advantages can be drawn from using translanguaging. First, it can stimulate a better comprehension of the subject. Second, translanguaging can promote development of the weaker language. Third, Baker claims that it can encourage co-operation and ties between home and school. Finally, the integration of fluent speakers and learners with a lower language level can be promoted.
As mentioned above, the concept of translanguaging is still developing and some researchers and experts have talked about the use of school language and other mastered languages when learning new languages. This could be interpreted as translanguaging. One of these experts is Cameron (2001) who states that teachers who are forced to use only the TL when teaching are in an ongoing struggle to achieve natural communication, especially if the teachers share other languages with their learners. Lightbown and Spada (2013) and Cummins (2007) declare that learners use patterns of languages they already know when learning a new language. The patterns and complexities of the already mastered languages are deeply rooted and therefore there is a flexibility between the languages when learning and communicating.
Within translanguaging, code-switching and translating are often mentioned. Code-switching is when you go back and forth between two or more languages within a conversation or a sentence (García, 2009; Lightbown & Spada, 2013). This often occurs spontaneously between speakers with common languages and should not be mistaken for translating. Translating is commonly known as to change words, sentences and/or entire texts from one language to another language and maintaining the meaning of them (Cummins, 2007).

Bilingualism and Multilingualism

Bilingualism is the ability to utilize two languages interchangeably, and the same applies to multilingualism which is when an individual has two or more languages in their repertoire (García, 2009).
Svensson (2018a) explains that about 20 years before Williams coined the term translanguaging, another researcher named Jim Cummins published a study on multilingual individuals, that showed that languages had a common underlying proficiency (see figure 1.). Those languages could, and would not be divided into different factions, instead working together as a whole when thinking and communicating. The two tips of the iceberg are the small portions where the languages of multilingual individuals differ (figure 1). García (2009) elaborates that bilingualism should not be seen as one language plus a second language equals two languages, the languages are not isolated entities used in separate times, spaces and contexts. Instead, it should be seen as one combined knowledge of language. When learners discover a new language, they spontaneously compare it to the languages they already know and that are established in their language repertoire (Cummins, 2007; Lightbown & Spada, 2013). As we process a new language, the new patterns we learn also affect and benefit the languages already in our repertoire. Cummins (2007) states that the cross-linguistic connections of bilingual learners are a strategy that should be nurtured, but García (2009) believes that schools often do not recognize the advantages of bilingualism. According to Murrow (2011), all teachers should be able to use bilingual support as it is a very effective technique, especially for beginners and low language level learners.
Svensson (2018b) is adamant that all learners, despite language background, benefit from teaching based on multilingual sources. This is not only for comprehension’s sake, but bilingualism and multilingualism are also related to social advantages, it improves cognitive functions as well as promotes a positive mindset towards other cultures and languages (García, 2009; Lewis et al., 2012).
Note: The dotted line is presented as the water level. Under the water level is the common underlying language proficiency and above the water level are the parts where languages differ.


Monolingualism in foreign language learning is the theory that teachers only should use the TL when teaching. This theory is mostly based on the idea that learners should be exposed to as much TL as possible, as it often is a language they do not use outside the classroom.
Within this idea of optimal TL exposure, Cummins (2007) has defined three monolingual instructional assumptions. The first one is the ‘direct method’ where instructions exclusively should be in the TL. The second is the ‘no translation method’, where translation between the school language and the TL under no circumstance belongs in teaching language. When translating, the belief is that the weaker language, usually the TL, will be overlooked. The third is the ‘two solitudes assumption’. Here the concept is that within immersion and bilingual teaching, school language and TL should be kept strictly apart.
Despite the monolingual approach to teaching foreign language being a historically common policy around the world, there is no empirical evidence supporting that this approach is more effective in reality (Vetenskapsrådet, 2012). In addition to that, the current empirical evidence cannot prove a negative aspect of mastering two or more languages. Such dual mastery could be fostered through the considered use of the school language and TL in the language classroom.

Steering documents

Teachers in Sweden are given a considerable leeway (Lindström & Pennlert, 2013) of choosing their own ways to reach the goals in the Syllabus for English set by Skolverket (2019). The problem, in the context of this study, is that Skolverket (2019) does not pinpoint how to use and relate to other languages than the TL when teaching, therefore the opinions of teachers differ profoundly. Svensson (2018a), Skolverket (2019) and Wedin (2018) explain that when a teacher corroborates learners’ multilingual repertoires and cultures, and approaches multilingualism as a right, it expands the learners’ empowerment that leads to more confident individuals. This is described in the overall goals and guidelines in the Curriculum for Swedish schools (Skolverket, 2019) which entails the development of responsible and critical thinking citizens that we strive for.
Svensson (2018b) refers to the curriculum for Swedish schools which explains that knowledge is a multifaceted term that can be defined in many ways, such as facts, comprehension and skill, which should be balanced in teaching. Also, Skollagen (SFS 2010:800) states that all children shall receive support and stimuli in their learning and personal development to be able to progress as much as possible towards the goals of the curriculum. Learning should be based on learners’ prior knowledge and experiences, which in a multilingual perspective can be seen as using learners’ linguistic and cultural background.

Previous research

Translanguaging in the classroom

Prior studies have often shown that translanguaging in the classroom is common, even if it is not enforced consciously or in the name of translanguaging. And despite different policies and beliefs, the school language is more or less always used in the foreign language classroom.
Al-Alawi (2008) studied teachers and their beliefs about school language use and how it affects their classroom practices. Through observations and interviews, he collected data from five teachers who were teaching in grades 5-9. The observations were used to see the actual use of school language and the semi-structured interviews were used to get the beliefs of the teachers (for Al-Alawi’s findings regarding teacher beliefs, cf. Section 3.3.2). Through observations, Al-Alawi (2008) found that three of five teachers used the school language to support the TL (English), but the other two did not. In another study, Izquierdo et al. (2016) examined the use of school language in TL (English) teaching in Mexico, where a monolingual approach was prevalent. Their study found that teachers refrained from code-switching and translating as there was a certain shame in using the school language. Despite these attempts to avoid the school language, it was still used in the classroom, but in a more isolated way. Additionally, Solhi and Büyükyazi (2011) asked teachers how much they used the school language when teaching English and found that the school language might be the most useful resource that a learner brings to the EFL (English as a Foreign Language) classroom, but it is barely utilized. This is due to factors such as theories and practices around the world that discourage the use of the school language when learning a new language, but Solhi and Büyükyazi’s (2011) study showed that the use of the school language was beneficial for TL teaching and that it played a supportive role.
Few studies have been conducted about translanguaging in Swedish schools, and one of them is Backlund (2017). Backlund (2017) observed and interviewed four teachers in Swedish grade 4-6 classrooms to find out how much Swedish (school language) was used during English (TL) lessons. The study showed that all four teachers used the school language to some extent, but in different ways. The most common strategy was code-switching which three of four teachers used. Despite one teacher being the exception by relying on translation rather than code-switching, they all used the school language for guidance and to enhance understanding in the different learning levels. The school language was also used for clarifying questions, especially for learners with a lower language level.
Nagy and Robertson (2017) conducted an observational study on EFL classes (grade 4) in Hungarian primary schools. The data collected in the study showed that the choice of language was influenced by several factors. They categorized them into 5 groups:
– External factors – steering documents, policies, school expectations and attitudes of leaders, colleagues and parents,
– Teacher-related internal factors – experience, training, beliefs and TL proficiency,
– Learner-related internal factors – age, motivation, proficiency, ability and attitude towards the TL,
– Context-related internal factors – the nature of the task and what part of the lesson it relates to,
– Internal factor, use of language – the predictability and repeatability of the language.
One or more of these factors can affect the choice of language simultaneously. Nagy and Robertson (2017) found that the most influential factors are the type of task or activity, and to what extent the teacher can control the lesson content and the demands that it has on the learners.
Many studies explored when and where in the lessons the school language and the TL were applied. In the broad picture, Izquierdo et al. (2016) found that there is a distinction in language choice between content and meaning related discourse. Discourse about the language and its content was predominantly in the TL, while discourse to create understanding and meaning was in the school language. Al-Alawi’s (2008) and Backlund’s (2017) studies found that, to affirm and support learners’ understanding, the school language was often used to meet the learner’s language level. This encompassed clarifying information and explaining details of the grammar and vocabulary they were learning and was further corroborated in a study by Park and Manning (2012) that observed and interviewed EFL teachers in South Korea. Park and Manning (2012), similarly to Izquierdo et al. (2016) and Al-Alawi (2008), found that the school language was most commonly used when giving instructions and explaining the content of the lesson. When giving instructions, teachers almost always used the school language to clarify understanding of the task at hand. The way they approached it can be divided into three categories. The first was teachers that used code-switching to scaffold the understanding of the TL instructions, by adding key words in the school language to promote the learners’ understanding of the context. The second category was teachers that used translation. They started by giving the instructions in the TL and then completely translated them into the school language, often to scaffold newer learners or learners with a lower language level. The third category was teachers that presented the entire instructions in the school language to make sure that all learners knew what they were doing. Furthermore, the school language was often used in other meaning related interactions such as individual interactions with learners to clarifying lesson content and answering questions (Backlund, 2017; Park and Manning, 2012; Al-Alawi, 2008).
Izquierdo et al. (2016) also found that topics that were more socially oriented, e.g. the learners’ context and daily routines, are more commonly addressed in the school language. This connects to findings that classroom management as well as feedback and criticizing were mostly done in the school language (Al-Alawi, 2008; Park & Manning, 2012). This can be seen in the light of Cameron (2001) that states the teacher’s language choice can amplify the importance of what is said. Using the school language can help teachers connect with the learners and reassure them that you understand their language struggles. Too much of this practice results in the TL being perceived as something foreign and a language only for study. It may also imply a distance and a knowledge gap between the teacher and the learner. Izquierdo et al. (2016) states that the socially oriented discourse in the TL needs to be elevated, and that can be achieved through a gradual transition between the school language and the TL e.g. by the means of exposure to short classroom-related communications. By doing so, learners also become used to the meaning oriented use of the TL.
Several studies reflect on why the school language and the TL are used. Even if only using the TL (monolingualism) is set aside, there is still a discussion to be had about free use of the school language and planned use of the school language. In the studies, it varies a lot if the use of the school language is planned or not. In an article Murrow (2011) argues for the planned use of the school language in EFL teaching. He believes that using the school language consciously will scaffold the learners’ acquirement of the TL. As Cameron (2001) elaborates, in language education, the TL should be used as much as possible and the school language should be used when the TL understanding is lacking and support is needed.
Nagy and Robertson (2017) state that TL teaching is generally effective in aspects where the language is repetitive and predictable. This can for example be using specific chunks of language in certain recurring parts of the lessons, like the beginning and end of lessons as Backlund (2017) found in her study. On the contrary, language which is less routine and often more complex needs more scaffolding of the school language (Nagy and Robertson, 2017). This is in line with Murrow (2011) that claims that using solely the TL will not only make learning vocabulary difficult, but it will hinder the learner from using and making connections with their knowledge in the school language. In a Chinese study by Macaro (2009) the author argues that teachers need to evaluate the gains and losses that will be made by drawing learners’ attention to patterns and making comparisons between the languages. In monolingual teaching it is not uncommon that teachers avoid relaying important information, knowing that it is possibly too complex for learners to understand in the TL. This could be bettered by activating connections between languages. It is important that these decisions are informed and both Macaro (2009) and Murrow (2011) find that the research on what aspects of teaching are most beneficial in translanguaging and what effect it has on learning is sparse and it is an important area of future experimental research.


Teachers’ perception on translanguaging

Though the research is limited on teachers’ perception on translanguaging, three studies were found on school language use when teaching English in grades 4-6. Two studies do not research translanguaging by name, but examines the use of school language in English teaching which can be interpreted as being translanguaging. These studies, by Backlund (2017) and Al-Alawi (2008), which are mentioned above (for Al-Alawi’s findings regarding actual use of school language, cf. Section 3.3.1), showed that teachers perceived that their teaching experiences were the main factor in their beliefs. They also found that the teachers mostly used the school language when explaining grammar, giving instructions and giving feedback. In a Swedish study, Grenner and Jönsson (2020) studied teachers’ (grades 4-6) perceptions of their and their learners’ use of translanguaging and came to a similar conclusion. By collecting data by survey, classroom observations and interviews Grenner and Jönsson (2020) concluded that even though none of the teachers had any knowledge of the concept translanguaging, they had knowledge on how to use the school language when teaching and used it consciously.

Table of contents :

1. Introduction
2. Aim and Research Questions
3. Background
3.1 Theoretical concepts
3.1.1 Translanguaging
3.1.2 Bilingualism and Multilingualism
3.1.3 Monolingualism
3.2 Steering documents
3.3 Previous research
3.3.1 Translanguaging in the classroom
3.3.2 Teachers’ perception on translanguaging
4.1 Participants
4.2 Instruments
4.2.1 Questionnaire
4.2.2 Interview
4.3 Procedure
4.4 Analysis
4.5 Ethical considerations
5. Results
5.1 Questionnaire results
5.1.1 Perceptions on using Swedish when teaching English
5.1.2 Use of Swedish when teaching English
5.1.3 Planning and implementing the use of Swedish when teaching English
5.1.4 Limitations and other factors that influences teachers
5.2 Interview results
6. Discussion
6.1 Teacher perception on using translanguaging
6.2 Teacher perception on planning and implementing translanguaging
7. Conclusion


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