Translanguaging: from a little acorn a mighty oak grows

26 May 2017

This month we published New Perspectives on Translanguaging and Education edited by BethAnne Paulsrud, Jenny Rosén, Boglárka Straszer and Åsa Wedin. In this post the editors explain how the book came about and introduce us to the metaphor of the “translanguaging tree”.

Research on translanguaging has often been centred in superdiverse cities and urban spaces. Thus, Dalarna University in Falun, Sweden, may not have come to mind first when exploring new research in the dynamic field of translanguaging as theory and pedagogy ‒ until now! Dalarna University has proven to be the springboard for a collection of innovative international research on translanguaging. How did this happen?

Let us back up a bit! The four of us editors have all been teaching and researching language in education in the Swedish context for many years, focusing on both policy and practice. With approximately 20% of Sweden’s population comprised of immigrants and at least 140 languages spoken by pupils in the compulsory school system, language use in and out of educational contexts is a stimulating field. Our research led us naturally to the concept of translanguaging.

The Translanguaging conference at Dalarna University

Translanguaging offered a new way to explore language ideologies, policies, and processes. After a study visit by Åsa to Canada, where she spent time with Jim Cummins and Thornwood Primary School in Mississauga, the idea of a small workshop on translanguaging grew. While we first imagined that perhaps a dozen or so Swedish researchers would join us in Falun, we soon realized that the thirst for discussing translanguaging as a theoretical and pedagogical concept was great. That informal workshop developed into an international conference, “Translanguaging – practices, skills and pedagogy”, with more than 150 researchers from around 20 countries as well as numerous in-service teachers. Bryn Jones, in his presentation at the conference, aptly described the spread of translanguaging as a useful concept in education research with the metaphor “from a little acorn a mighty oak grows”.

The editors at a writing workshop

The metaphor of the acorn even describes the momentum which followed the conference in Falun. Inspired by the amazing research taking place in different contexts, we knew that a volume was needed to share this surge in the field. With a fantastic group of scholars from seven countries, the volume took shape in record time. For us editors, the period of time from April, 2015, to the present will always be remembered as a blur of texts to read, long editor meetings, contact with fantastic authors spread across the world, and appreciation of the great efforts made by everyone involved in the book. A highlight was a two-day writing workshop in the wintry countryside outside of Stockholm, where all the authors gathered for two days of peer-reviewing and mingling.

Many branches of the ever-growing ‘translanguaging tree’ are represented in our volume. Here are just a few:

  • agency
  • language ideology
  • language policy
  • social justice
  • translanguaging space
  • transliteracy
  • critical views on translanguaging
  • young learners to young adults
  • sign languages
  • national minority languages

Organizing a conference on translanguaging in the small town of Falun in Sweden highlights the fact that linguistic and cultural diversity is part of everyday lives in most places in the world. With the publication of this timely collection, we have made one contribution to tending the flourishing ‘translanguaging tree.’ We hope that the field will continue to thrive, and that future research will benefit from this first volume dedicated to new perspectives of translanguaging in education.

For more information about this book, please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Translanguaging in Higher Education edited by Catherine M. Mazak and Kevin S. Carroll.


Language Policy and Mother Tongue Debate in Iran

17 August 2016

This month we are publishing Who’s Afraid of Multilingual Education? by Amir Kalan which explores multilingual education in Iran through a series of conversations with leading multilingualism scholars. In this post, Amir explains why the language situation in Iran is so unique.

Who’s Afraid of Multilingual Education?More than 70 languages are spoken in today’s Iran, yet by law all school textbooks are written in Farsi (Persian). Farsi is also the only language of instruction throughout the country, even in non-Persian areas with vibrant linguistic lives and solid cultural identities. My new book, Who is Afraid of Multilingual Education?, tries to discover how ideological discourses in Iran have allowed the dominance of monolingual schools despite empirical evidence that advocates otherwise. The book examines arguments that doubt the effectiveness of mother tongue-based multilingual education in Iran and, through conversations with four respected international scholars, it compares the Iranian situation with global experiences with challenges of establishing multilingual educational systems that regard students’ plurilingualism as a valuable resource rather than an obstacle.

A focus on multilingualism in the Iranian context is worthwhile due to a number of reasons. Despite the current official systematic resistance against the demands of Iranian ethnic minorities for classroom instruction in students’ mother tongues (which has left Iran well behind India and even China, Iran’s civilizational cousins) Iran has a long history of multiculturalism and multilingualism. Diversity has always been an integral part of social life in the Iranian Plateau since the very beginnings of the formation of greater Iran (through Iranian empires) up to the contemporary Iranian society. On the other hand, minoritized Iranian populations – to the best of our knowledge – have not experienced the violence similar to what has been imposed on minority cultures in the West through colonialism and imperialism, such as attempts to eradicate aboriginal cultures and racial segregation in education systems. Up until the early 20th century, when the Iranian government of the time imported Western educational models along with European nation state ideologies, Iranian languages organically mingled and interacted in learning centers as well as everyday social interactions. Who is Afraid of Multilingual  Education? asks what discourses advocating mother tongue-based multilingual educational have rendered a heresy over the past 100 years in Iran despite the multilingual fabric of the country. Tove Skutnabb-Kangas, Jim Cummins, Ajit Mohanty and Stephen Bahry critique these discourses in the book drawing upon examples of the experiences of minoritized students in different parts of the world.

The arguments against mother tongue-based multilingual education discussed in this book include nationalistic one-language-one-nation discourses that deem the dominance of a single language a necessary factor in creating a national identity; political visions that advocate that imposing one single language on minorities would empower them by providing them the ability to communicate and to trade their skills and products in larger markets and thus “succeed” in life; linguistic theories that attempt to prove some languages are naturally wired to be superior to other languages and thus are to be shared by all the members of society regardless of their linguistic backgrounds; economic speculations proposing that mother tongue-based multilingual education is an appealing and perhaps moral idea but too expensive to put into practice; and finally, post-colonial and anti-imperial anxieties that help the state treat legitimate demands for receiving education in the medium of students’ mother tongues as separatist desires.

Unfortunately, empirical evidence supporting the benefits of multilingual education for students and society at large is often comfortably ignored by politicians and mainstream media. Traditional academic publications also often fail to find their way out of closed professional circles and remain unread by the public, typically fed by more popular but less accurate forms of dissemination such as TV shows and mainstream news websites. As a result, Who is Afraid of Multilingual Education? reviews the issues that the international language research community has struggled with in a more accessible interview format. Hopefully, the inter­views offered in this book and the analyses that follow them can open new horizons in the mother tongue debate in Iran, establish better communication between Iranian and international educators, and contribute to the ongoing conversation about multilingualism in the inter­national research community.

LDLR covers 2016For further information about this book please see our website. For other books in our Linguistic Diversity and Language Rights series take a look at the series page on our website.


Multilingual Matters on the Road at Recent Conferences!

1 May 2015

May is now upon us and as I sit here in the spring sunshine it’s easy to wonder where March and April went.  My colleagues will be quick to point out that as well as the months travelling by, I have also been doing some travelling, together with Tommi and Kim.

Following the NABE conference in Las Vegas, the next conference on our spring schedule was GURT which Tommi attended in Washington in March.  The theme of the conference was “Diversity and Super-Diversity: Sociocultural Linguistic Perspectives”.  Our two books Ethnography, Superdiversity and Linguistic Landscapes by Jan Blommaert and Linguistic Landscape in the City edited by Elana Shohamy et al were popular following the authors’ keynotes.  Tommi then flew over the border to Canada to meet me in Toronto, where we spent the next 10 days.

Tommi with Dolores, Bessie and Smita during our visit to UTP

Tommi with Dolores, Bessie and Smita during our visit to UTP

The first appointment of our trip was with the University of Toronto Press Distribution (UTP), our North American distributor.  We have had a long relationship with them and it was lovely to catch up with people we email almost daily but haven’t seen in person for a number of years.  Smita and Dolores are our first points of contact at UTP and they oversee the processing of any orders to customers based in Canada and the US, be they purchases, review copies, desk copies or anything else.  As well as discussing work, they and Bessie were able share their insider knowledge on Ontario, and recommended a trip to Niagara on our mid-trip afternoon off.

Kim, Tommi and Laura manning the stand at AAAL

Kim, Tommi and Laura manning the stand at AAAL

The next highlight of our trip was the annual AAAL conference, which this year took place in Toronto together with its Canadian equivalent ACLA.  Kim flew out to join Tommi and me and the three of us manned the stand and went to sessions.  The AAAL conference is always a lively and well-attended event and we are always proud to display a full selection of our recent publications to the field.  It’s one of the rare occasions where we see all of our publications side-by-side and reflect on all the work that has been put in by our authors.  Our SLA series had a bumper year, with 4 books in the series making our top 10 list of sellers and Motivational Dynamics in Language Learning edited by Zoltán Dörnyei, Peter D. MacIntyre and Alastair Henry topped the chart.  Of our 2015 titles, Power and Meaning Making in an EAP Classroom by Christian Chun was very popular, as was the 2nd edition of Merrill Swain, Linda Steinman and Penny Kinnear’s work Sociocultural Theory in Second Language Education.

Kim and the Yorkshire puddings!

Kim and the Yorkshire puddings!

We celebrated the publication of this new 2nd edition one evening together with the authors and some of their colleagues.  Merrill Swain chose a superb French restaurant for the occasion and that was one of many evenings during our stay in Toronto when we were impressed with the cuisine that the city had to offer.  We seemed to eat our way round the world as we enjoyed not only local Canadian cuisine but also that with influences from Japan, Iran, Italy and in one restaurant, Yorkshire, Kim’s home county in the UK.  The chef was a little intimidated when he heard that a true Yorkshire lass was to taste his take on Yorkshire puddings!

As soon as AAAL was over it was nearly time for TESOL, but not before we had waved Kim farewell (she headed back to the UK for the iMean conference) and Tommi and I had managed to squeeze in a quick trip to Niagara Falls.  The Falls were every bit as stunning as I had imagined and even noisier!  TESOL was its usual busy self and the keynotes given by our authors Michael Byram and Jim Cummins pulled enormous crowds.

Mike Byram giving his keynote

Mike Byram giving his keynote

We also attended some of the smaller sessions, including a panel discussion on L2 Motivational Self-Concept in Language Learning which was organised by future author Nihat Polat and included Zoltán Dörnyei, Kata Csizér and Michael Magid as speakers.  Kata and Michael recently published The Impact of Self-Concept on Language Learning with us, and their visit to the stand afterwards marked the first time that they had been together with the published book!

The final conference of my trip was the American Educational Research Association (AERA) annual meeting in Chicago.  It was the first time that I had attended AERA and it was a surprise to me to be at a conference with delegates with backgrounds other than language.  However, even those who were there for sessions in another field of study were sometimes drawn to our books and A Parents’ and Teachers’ Guide to Bilingualism by Colin Baker was often picked up for personal rather than research reasons.  The most popular title of the conference was another of our books on bilingualism, the collection The Bilingual Advantage edited by Rebecca M. Callahan and Patricia C. Gándara.

It has been a busy year already for conference travel but isn’t set to quieten down yet.  Next on our schedule are The 10th International Symposium on Bilingualism which Tommi and Elinor are attending in New Jersey in May, and the 27th International Conference on Foreign/Second Language Acquisition which I’ll be going for in Poland.  If you’re at any of these meetings do please pop by our stand and say hello, we’d love to meet you!

Laura


An Interview with Elizabeth Coelho

9 July 2012

Having just published her latest book Language and Learning in Multilingual Classrooms we caught up with author Elizabeth Coelho and asked her a few questions about her work.

How did you first become interested in immigrant and multicultural education?
I became interested in language teaching first. As a young teacher I spent a year teaching English in Bulgaria, which made me realize that simply being a teacher who spoke English was not enough; I needed to know how to teach language in a way that was engaging and effective. During that year I also experienced culture shock and other difficulties associated with being in a place where I did not speak the language or understand the cultural norms. This was the early seventies and I arrived in Bulgaria, naïvely, with a suitcase full of miniskirts… And there were many other occasions when  I misinterpreted the culture. In Bulgaria, for example, shaking the head means “Yes.'” Endless confusion when asking for help or ordering in restaurants. This experience helped me later to understand the adjustment process of the  immigrant children I worked with on my return to the UK and then, later, in Canada.

In the UK I worked in a special program for Creole speaking children from the Caribbean. We were a team of teachers placed in different schools and every Friday we met for professional development. I learned an incredible amount from my students and my peers about teaching, language, culture, and racism. A year or two later I was teaching English as a Second Language to immigrant students from all over the world in a Toronto secondary school, and taking professional courses to become better at it.

Which other researchers in your field do you most admire?
Jim Cummins is always an inspiration. Learning about the value of students’  own languages was pivotal for me. Viv Edwards at the University of Reading also helped me along the same road.

What makes your book unique compared to others published in this field?
I think I occupy a middle space between academic researchers and the teacher in the field. I am first and foremost a teacher, having spent 17 years in the classroom, mainly as an ESL teacher, and then many years in various positions working with or training teachers. I read the work of the researchers (Cummins, Krashen, and others) and talk with teachers who are doing wonderful work in the classroom, and am able to connect theory and practice. This book provides an overview of relevant theory and research and then provides many suggestions for classroom practice based on the theories.

Elizabeth Coelho

Why is it important for children from linguistic minorities to receive special attention in classrooms?
Because we are teaching them in the wrong language and must compensate for that. According to UNESCO, “It is an obvious yet not generally recognised truism that learning in a language which is not one’s own provides a double set of challenges, not only is there the challenge of learning a new language but also that of learning new knowledge contained in that language… Studies have shown that, in many cases, instruction in the mother tongue is beneficial to language competencies in the first language, achievement in other subject areas, and second language learning.” (UNESCO, 2003: p.15)

Unfortunately, providing mother-tongue or dual language instruction may not be feasible in many schools or districts, for political, practical, or philosophical reasons. Therefore we must do all we can to compensate for the fact that we are teaching in the wrong language for many of the students.We do this by providing scaffolded, differentiated instruction and assessment for students at various stages of development in the language of instruction— in all subject areas and at all grade levels. My book provides many practical, curriculum-based examples of how to do that.

What encouragement would you offer to teachers who are struggling with multilingual students in their classrooms?
The task of educating students whose linguistic and cultural backgrounds are different from your own, or from those of the school, may seem overwhelming, especially since most teachers have not received significant preparation for teaching in contexts of linguistic and cultural diversity. But, to put things into perspective, the challenges facing immigrant children and youth, and their parents, are even greater than those facing teachers. We owe it to such children to overcome the challenges that face us as educators, in order to help them meet theirs. In this way educators can help newcomer and minority students to realise their aspirations for a brighter future, and at the same time help to ensure a healthy future for the entire community. This may sound like a daunting responsibility – but most teachers didn’t choose teaching because it seemed like an easy job. Most teachers have the compassion, the imagination, and the passion for teaching that is needed in a profession where the one thing we can be sure of is constant change.

You are involved in a great cross-cultural adventure. You face many challenges, but you will also find your journey illuminating and rewarding as you learn more every day about the backgrounds and experiences of your students. Undoubtedly your view of the world will change, and your awareness of your own cultural background will be enhanced, as you learn from your students about their worlds and as you teach them about yours.

And finally, what is next for you?
At the moment I am working with colleagues at the University of Girona to adapt the book for teachers in Spain, where immigration is a relatively recent phenomenon. Through this process I continue to improve my Spanish and am gaining a new awareness of the challenge of expressing knowledge and sharing perspectives in a language I am still learning.  I am filled anew with admiration for students in elementary and secondary schools who are doing this six hours a day, five days a week, forty weeks a year.

Because I am now living in Spain most of the time I have become increasingly interested in CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning). CLIL is an increasingly popular approach to foreign language teaching in Spain and many other countries in Europe, and many teachers are providing instruction through the medium of English in subjects such as Social Studies, Arts, or Science. The learning objectives include language-learning objectives as well as the usual content objectives. I believe many of the approaches and strategies described in my book, that have been used effectively with immigrant and minority students who are learning the language of instruction, are equally useful in the CLIL context. So I am looking for opportunities to share some of this knowledge and experience with CLIL teachers and advisers.

Reference: UNESCO. (2003) Education in a Multilingual World. Paris: UNESCO. Position paper on language and education in multilingual societies. Available at: http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0012/001297/129728e.pdf 


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