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Bilingualism and Translanguaging Authors

Elodie Resurreccion
In this November newsletter, I would like to share with you three authors who currently have an impact on bilingual education. These three authors are showing the diversity of bilingual individuals by sharing their years of study and personal experience.
The first author, Colin Baker, provides sensible and generous guidance with his book “A Parents' and Teachers' Guide to Bilingualism” published in 2014 by Multilingual Matters. With this book, Colin Baker offers answers to frequently asked questions that parents, teachers and others most often ask about when raising bilingual children. These questions have been collected cumulatively across over 30 years of interaction with educators.

The book deals with family and educational questions, language issues and focuses particularly on problems that arise. Such questions reflect central issues that people regularly face in deciding how to deal with bilingualism at home. For example: “My children get little practice in speaking their second language outside the home. What should I do?” Important questions about advantages and disadvantages, schemes and strategies of language development are posed. I like how this book is well-organized and informative; and it was the first one to open my mind about how to raise bilingual children, and helped me substantially to better understand how to teach them. Plus, I found every question relevant to the parents and teachers of any bilingual child. Colin Baker carefully considers issues from every angle, not just the norm.

The second author that I highly recommend is François Grosjean. His book “Bilingual: Life and Reality” (Harvard University Press, 2010) discusses a number of myths about bilingualism. François Grosjean moved from France to the USA, then to Switzerland. You can feel in his writing how his own life has impacted his research. He has personally experienced the complexity of being plurilingual. I think that’s why his research and the resources that he created are changing our way of perceiving bilingual education.

These authors understand that being bilingual can be described from a monolingual point of view. François Grosjean explains that a bilingual person is not the sum of two monolinguals. This way of seeing bilinguals was an innovation two decades ago, and I think it still is. For a long time, bilingual people were seen as two complete or incomplete monolinguals. François Grosjean helps deconstruct myths that still persist about bilingualism. His publications are supporting the shift from a monolingual vision to an heteroglossic vision of what it is to be bilingual. For example, one common myth is that mixing languages is a sign of laziness in bilinguals. François Grosjean explains that this statement is wrong, in fact, mixing languages, such as code-switching and borrowing, is a very common behavior in bilingual people speaking to other bilinguals. It is a bit like having coffee with milk instead of having it just straight black. The two language repertoires are available in bilingual situations and can be used at will. Many expressions and words work better in one or the other language. Mixing allows using the right word without having recourse to translation. This said, in other situations, bilinguals know that they cannot mix their languages (e.g. when speaking to monolinguals) and they then stick to just one language.

You can also find other myths and explanations on François Grosjean’s website. Understanding that mixing languages is a norm in bilingual communication is a key to better understanding plurilingualism. 

Finally, the third author and professor that I recommend reading/listening to is Ofelia Garcia. In her book “Bilingual Education in the 21st century: A Global Perspective”, she reviews international bilingual education policies, with separate chapters dedicated to US and EU language policy in education. Ofelia Garcia is internationally known for her work on bilingual education, language policy, multilingualism and sociology of language. She has done a lot of research about the concept of translanguaging, which she agrees is a discursive norm for plurilingualism. Plurilinguals do not separate their languages, instead, they use them to support each other. When learning a new concept, for example, they will use all of their words (their full linguistic repertoire) and knowledge no matter the language. I like to compare it to seeing the world in 3D, while a monolingual individual will only see the world in 2D.

Ofelia Garcia, like François Grosjean, has a holistic view of a bilingual individual. When it comes to their linguistic practices, these scholars think that they shouldn’t be compared to monolingual practices. Compared to monolinguals, bilinguals have complex linguistic practices that add more dimension to their view of the world. This depth and dimension cannot be reached by only one language. Garcia uses the analogy of an all-terrain vehicle to describe the adaptability of bilinguals in our complex, 21st century world. She affirms that bilinguals can better adapt to different situations, thanks to their languages, in comparison to monolinguals (bicycle). She agrees with Baker and Grosjean that balanced bilinguals are rare and that bilinguals translanguage. O.Garcia (2009: 56) “Viewing bilingualism as a social practice of individuals (Heller, 2007) with translanguaging as its core, and not simply as two languages that are spoken whole.”

To qualify the normal discourse practices of bilinguals, Garcia uses the word “translanguaging.” At first, "trawsieithu" was a term used to describe a pedagogical practice by Williams and Baker. It is Baker who translated and popularized this notion into the name, “Translanguaging”. He defined translanguaging as “the process of making meaning, shaping experiences, understandings, and knowledge through the use of two languages. For Garcia, translanguaging refers to the normal discourse practices of bilingual individuals and families. It treats bilingual discourse as the norm between multilinguals. She argues that it is, on the other hand, an expert-level language practice of multilingualism. Garcia, inspired by scholarly research like Grosjean, explains that multilinguals select their words strategically in order to communicate effectively. It is a natural practice that occurs spontaneously and pragmatically. For Garcia, this notion refers to a pedagogical practice that not only uses bilingualism as a resource, but also as flexible and dynamic use of the complex linguistic resources of multilingualism to make meaning of their lives and their complex world. To go deeper into Ofelia Garcia’s vision, I encourage you to read her book and watch this video.

These past ten years, three scholars, among others, (J. Cummins, F. Jaumont…) have proven that instead of keeping languages separated, making links between languages enables our children to develop their full potential. Allowing them to use their whole linguistic repertoire, their whole vision of their world, is having numerous positive results. That’s why at EB we are developing collaboration between French and American teachers, harmonizing our curriculum to make sure language links are made synchronously during co-teaching or asynchronously, thanks to bilingual posters. 

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