THE EMERGENCE OF TRANSLINGUALISM

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If you are interested in Continuous Professional Development and keep up-to-date with developments in the English as a Foreign Language field you may have heard a new term being bandied about: translingualism. A recent study looked at English language learners’ attitudes towards English and their need for English in future. The results of the study were surprising and will give English as a Foreign Language teachers some food for thought regarding their teaching methods.

What the study has found was that the majority of the learners in the study believed their future with English involved translingualism, which is a very different linguistic situation to the traditional one of using only one language to communicate.

What is translingualism?

Translingualism is the use of elements of more than one language when speaking. For example Italian workers at an American company may speak English in meetings with management but Italian when dealing with their Italian colleagues; or people mixing their languages when chatting online or by text message.

Translingualism and English

Basically, the majority of the English language learners in the study believed they would use English translingually rather than in a monolingual context. These learners believed they were more likely to end up using English along with their first language or other languages in their job or living situation than they were to solely use English. This is very different to the communicative situation we prepare our students for in the EFL classroom, which means we need to re-evaluate our teaching methods.

How will translingualism affect EFL teachers?

As a result of this, the focus on the native versus non-native speaker teacher debate should quieten down. The ultimate EFL teacher will no longer be the native speaker with the RP English accent, but one who is, in fact, multilingual and is able to communicate easily and naturally in more than one language besides English. Effectively, the non-native teacher will be seen as more valuable in the EFL classroom than they currently are.

In the classroom, EFL teachers may need to throw out the English-only rule and instead implement more flexible methods of communicating. They will need to be more aware of their students’ linguistic backgrounds and utilise teaching techniques which build on other languages.

Bilingualism and multilingualism should be seen as additive and our learners’ other languages should be utilised in the journey to learning English. Translation should become a part of our repertoire in the classroom and we should include learning strategies which make use of other languages.

In other words, we should find ways to build bridges between languages rather than trying to keep them separate. This will result in our learners being able to communicate in English as well as in situations where English may not be the only language spoken. Translingualism may be a new term for now but it is sure to become more and more commonplace, and the EFL field needs to keep up with the changing times and adapt in order to remain effective and relevant.

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