Let’s Not Forget that Translanguaging is a Political Act

Anybody who has made the rounds at academic conferences know that new buzzwords come into and go out of fashion fairly regularly. As I made the rounds this year one of the buzzwords was translanguaging. Considering that I spent my graduate school career under the mentorship of Ofelia Garcia, one of the pioneers in introducing this term to educational linguistics, this was especially exciting for me.

Yet, the more presentations I went to, the more worried I became. The term no longer seemed to have the political edge it did when I was first learning about it as a graduate student. At first I assumed that I had become so acclimated to the term that it no longer felt revolutionary to me in the ways that it did before. But the more I heard, the more I realized that it was, in fact, being used in ways that were disconnected from the larger political struggles where I always situated the term.

Below is my attempt to reconnect translanguaging to these larger political struggles. I am not in any way suggesting that this attempt is the definitive attempt at defining translanguaging. Indeed, it is only when a concept is given a static definition that it truly loses its revolutionary potential. Instead, I offer some general comments based on my observations about how translanguaging has been taken-up at academic conferences to encourage an on-going dialogue about how we conceptualize the term in educational linguistics.

  1. Translanguaging is not simply a research method but rather part of a larger political struggle of linguistic self-determination for language-minoritized populations. The biggest concern that I have with the way that translanguaging has been taken up at many academic conferences is that people often use the term to describe the language practices of language-minoritized communities without situating these practices within larger political struggles for linguistic self-determination. Translanguaging research should not attempt to objectively describe the language practices of language-minoritized communities but rather should attempt to analyze the ways that these language practices are marginalized by the larger society. This should be activist-oriented research that seeks to work in solidarity with language-minoritized communities in resisting this marginalization.
  2. Translanguaging is not the same as code-switching. I have seen many presentations where the term translanguaging is used but where the underlying assumptions of the nature of the language practices continue to be informed by research on code-switching. While it is true that both terms are used to describe the same linguistic practices they start from two different premises.  Code-switching presupposes the existence of  discrete languages which are, in fact, socio-historical constructions that have been used to marginalize bilingual language practices that do not fit neatly into these discrete languages. Translanguaging historicizes the creation of these linguistic boundaries and examines the ways that language-minoritized communities take-up, resist, and are marginalized by these socio-historical constructions.
  3. Translanguaging is not advocating for additive bilingualism. I have also attended many presentations where the term translanguaging is used alongside calls for additive bilingualism. However, translanguaging offers an explicit critique of additive bilingualism that is not being taken into account. Those of us who utilize translanguaging as a framework should engage with this critique in ways that seek to understand how additive bilingualism may  be complicit in the marginalization of language-minoritized communities.
  4. Translanguaging does not describe new language practices associated with globalization. Many presentations that I have seen make either explicit or implicit connections between translanguaging and the increased mobility and “super-diversity” associated with globalization. This connection is problematic for two reasons. For one, it erases the long history of translanguaging practices among language-minoritized communities. Secondly, it glosses over the fact that translanguaging practices have historically and continue to exist in communities that are quite segregated. It also emphasizes mobility and diversity in ways that gloss over the increased immobility and segregation of many racialized communities in the U.S. and worldwide.
  5. Translanguaging offers a new framework for understanding all language practices. In many conference presentations, translanguaging is presented as the language practices of the Other–as something exotic or more complex than the bland monolingual White middle class norm. Yet, in actuality, translanguaging offers a new framework for understanding the language practices of all people. Everybody, whether they are positioned as monolingual, bilingual, or multilingual has to negotiate the socio-historical construction of languages, dialects, registers, etc. and often do this in ways that deviate from the arbitrary linguistic boundaries produced by these socio-historical constructions. Rather than seeing language-minoritized communities as objectively deviating from these socio-historical constructions we can seek to understand why these communities are positioned as deviant while White middle class communities who engage in similar language practices are not marked a deviant in this way.

This is just my first attempt at developing principles for translanguaging research. Please feel free to share other principles or comments about the ones that I propose in the comment section.


7 thoughts on “Let’s Not Forget that Translanguaging is a Political Act

  1. As a monolingual, English-speaking Dual Language co-coordinator and English department chair, I am fascinated by Translanguaging. I especially appreciate your bullet number 2, as an educator. My colleague and I talk about this issue often, especially as we seek to redefine teaching practices, according to what we’ve learned about Translanguaging. At the secondary level, the resources for discussing Translanguaging with our peers/students is very limited. And I am concerned that it is becoming drilled down to code-switching or allowing English to teach the content in Dual Language classes that should be taught in Spanish as well as the SLA classroom.
    I am also personally interested in bullet number 5. Can you suggest further reading on this? I agree, if I understand you correctly, perhaps Translanguaging is also restricted as the “Other,” which I am also concerned about. My primary goal is to show all teachers that they are language teachers, regardless of their content; yet, this may be one more way we define the learning/language of “those students.”
    Thank you for sharing these thoughts. I’m still learning about this and trying to make sense of it in my classroom/school site.


    1. Thanks for your comments! Because I was responding to trends I saw at academic conferences I created the bullets focused on research. Your comments are not challenging me to think through what some of the implications might be for teachers and policymakers. So thank you for that!

      In terms of your comments related to bullet #2, I agree with you that many have taken up translanguaging to mean code-switching as a form of scaffolding without thinking through the ways that both languages can be brought together to produce new discursive practices. I co-authored a book chapter with my mentor Ofelia Garcia that examines the pedagogical practices of a bilingual ELA high school teacher who uses translanguaging in these more transformative ways. If you are interested you can find the book chapter entitled “Linguistic Third Spaces in Education” on my academia profile under book chapters: https://penn.academia.edu/NelsonFlores. Some of the other articles/chapters on my page that focus on high school level are “Transgressing Monolingualism and Bilingual Dualities” , “Expanding Bilingualism in U.S. Secondary Education”, and “Latino Emergent Bilinguals in High School.” I am happy to discuss any of them with you in more detail.

      In terms of your questions related to bullet #5, I can currently thinking through what exactly the implications of this are myself and there isn’t anything that I have read that explicitly critiques the othering process at play in how translanguaging is often discussed. My current thinking on the subject is that the way to prevent this is to make all students aware of the many different ways that they use language and to develop a meta-language for describing the complexities of language-in-use. The goal is not to create “pure” texts (meaning texts that follow standardized conventional norms just for the sake of following these norms) but rather for all students to use this meta-language to strategically deploy their communicative repertoires in ways that convey their unique voices.

      Though this book doesn’t discuss translanguaging, I think that it does do a good job of showing the complexities of actual language-in-use and has some ideas for how to engage with this complexity at the high school level in ways that resist othering language-minoritized students: http://www.amazon.com/Communicating-Beyond-Language-Encounters-Diversity/dp/041550340X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1405984414&sr=8-1&keywords=betsy+rymes+communicating+beyond+language

      The author is actually a colleague of mine at Penn and we are currently having discussing related to the questions you posed about bullet #5 so hopefully we will have more answers soon.

      Thanks again for reading my blog!


  2. Dr. Flores,

    What do you think is the role of the language separation principle in dual language instruction in marginalizing translanguaging practices of latino students? Do you see any complicity between language separation discourse and translanguaging practices?

    I thoroughly enjoy all your posts. Thank you!

    Gaby Dolsa


    1. Gaby,

      Thanks so much for reading my blog and for your comment. In my opinion, the strict separation of languages in dual language programs creates a disconnect between the home language practices of many Latino students and the idealized language practices of schooling. Many Latinos do not relate to the socio-historical constructs of “English” and “Spanish” as two separate languages in the ways that dual language programs expect them to. The imposition of a strict separation negates this relationship and imposes a normative language ideology that expects students to perform monolingually in ways that may be unfamiliar to them–and indeed may lead them to conclude that there is something deficient in the ways that they and their families interact with one another. In addition, this strict separation of languages also often leads to a strict separation of students into “native English speakers” and “native Spanish speakers”, which once again negates the affinities that many Latino students have to both English and Spanish and makes those positioned as “native Spanish speakers” perpetual outsiders to English.

      Though I am still working through my theoretical critique of the structure of dual language programs, I have been challenged by the many dual language teachers I have worked with to develop practical implications of this theoretical critique. My current thinking (which is constantly evolving) is that rather than imposing a strict separation of language teachers should develop macro-language goals that may be in what have been socio-historically constructed as (1) English (2) Spanish or (3) translanguaging. Importantly, these macro-goals do not always have to be in one socio-historically constructed language but can include translanguaging (such as in bilingual creative writing for example). Yet, regardless of what these macro-goals may be there also needs to be flexibility at the micro-level that allows students to use their entire linguistic repertoire to make meaning in the classroom, which will allow them to connect their home language practices with the language practices of schooling.

      I hope this makes sense. Thanks again for reading my blog!


  3. Thanks for this post!

    Based on your perspective (please correct me if I get you wrong!), can I say code-switching is ideologically free and it is just used to describe language practices where more than one linguistic codes are used in one utterance? Meanwhile, Translanguaging is political and can be presented by (but not limited to) the fact that more than one languages are employed in the classroom to serve different purposes (e.g. In Spanish as a Second Language classroom, English is employed by a teacher to explain Spanish grammar), and it does not necessarily mean integrating two or more linguistics codes in one utterance? Could I say the meaning of Translanguaging is broader than code-switching and code-switching can be incorporated under Translanguaging as you have said on bullet#5- ‘Translanguaging offers a new framework for understanding ALL LANGUAGE PRACTICES’? Moreover, if Translanguaging offers a new model to understand every single language behaviour, how come if could have the nature of ‘politic act’? (Does this indicate – ALL human language behaviours are political?) In addition, could you provide an example to demonstrate how Translanguaging examines the manners that ‘language-monoritized communities take-up, resist, and are marginalized by these socio-historical constructions’ (bullet#2)? Last but not least, could you please explain a bit more about using Translanguaging to analyse the manners that linguistic behaviours are suppressed by the wider society, which you mentioned in bullet#1.

    Sorry about so many questions, but I’m still trying to understand Translanguaging which I used to think it is the same as code-switching. I might have difficult to comprehend the political nature of Translanguaging. If possible, can you suggest some reading on this issue?

    Thanks again for sharing this post.

    Bo (Melbourne, Australia)


  4. Dear Bo,

    Thanks for reading my blog and for my comment. I will try to answer your questions to the best of my ability. I apologize if this doesn’t all make sense since I am still working through my ideas on these issues.

    In terms of the relationship between code-switching and translanguaging, my current thinking is that they are both describing the same phenomenon but that they are coming from different ideological positions. Code-switching presupposes the objective existence of separate languages that translanguaging takes to be socio-historical constructions. So I would not argue that translanguaging is more broad than code-switching but rather that translanguaging challenges us to incorporate as part of our analysis the historical “invention” of languages and the ways that these inventions are complicit in the marginalization of the language practices of language-minoritized populations (a great book on the historical invention of languages is Makoni and Pennycook’s “Disinventing and Reconstituting Language).

    Starting from this perspective, I would agree with the statement that all human language behaviors are political and that the role of sociolinguistic research should be to understand how this political nature of language is reproduced through social interactions as opposed to beginning from the premise that the naming of languages as separate objects is an objective stance. For example, there are many situations of what some researchers might call “codeswitching” that are not understood or recognized that way by the interlocutors who do not relate to their language practices as separate discrete linguistic systems. Insisting on calling it codeswitching and conceptualizing it as an utterance that utilizes two separate languages, privileges a particular epistemological stance toward language that was developed within a specific socio-historical context (I have a few articles that explore this historical context that I would be happy to share). Now, it is also possible that one of the interlocutors does recognize it as codeswitching and (for example) is a dual language teacher who wants to impose a strict separation of languages in the classroom and reprimands a student for engaging in these practices. In this interaction the language practice is marked because of larger ideological processes that are at play.

    I’m not sure if any of this makes any sense :-).

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m with you on point #4 above in general that translanguaging isn’t a new linguistic phenomenon per se, but what are your thoughts on the intersection of superdiversity (especially as articulated by Blommaert, Rampton, and Spotti in Language and Superdiversity or related writings) and translanguaging? My take is that they go well together in that they embrace the political struggle more explicitly, particularly in choosing terms that are, themselves, interesting enough and broad enough to be appealing to a wide swath of people, including politicians, teachers, lay people, and so on. Writers in these areas often have sections where they basically list a bunch of other related terms (e.g. metrolingualism, hybridity, code-switching, etc.) and then produce superdiversity or translanguaging as better terms. Usually, however, the arguments tend to be more demographic, on the one hand, or linguistic on the other, often ignoring the political points you raise here. And they rarely raise the tricky question around just how these terms resonate at a gut level when they hear them for the first time, but (and I have had this experience too) when one hears “superdiversity” or “translanguaging” there seem to be really subtle resonances that seem to ring, by and large, positively for people.

    Is the fact that these terms have been able to attract money from the political system for research, teacher training, etc. in Europe, the US, and elsewhere a positive sign that these terms have legs or just a sign of good “branding” as Pavlenko has pointed out?


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