Summer School: Day One

Jessica Bradley and Piotr Węgorowski

We were delighted to welcome forty-five delegates to the TLANG summer school which started today (Monday 19th June). We would never have predicted that the summer school would coincide with a heatwave…which looks set to continue for the rest of the week. But our delegates braved the heat and made it to the School of Education at the University of Birmingham for five days of workshops, talks and discussion on and about translanguaging.

The summer school is linked to both the TLANG project, funded by the AHRC as part of its Translating Cultures strand and to a Global Challenges Research Fund-sponsored project led by Profs Adrian Blackledge and Angela Creese ‘Overcoming Barriers to University Education in South Africa’, which is a collaboration with the University of Cape Town and Universities South Africa, a non-profit organisation representing South Africa’s universities.

Today’s programme started with an introduction to the summer school and to the TLANG project by Angela Creese. Angela described the methodologies which have been used across the four case studies – in Birmingham, Cardiff, Leeds and London – as well as the different sites in which the research has been taken place. Angela talked about the TLANG research in terms of socially just, publicly aware and ethically responsible approaches to languages and society. The ‘Overcoming Barriers’ project aims to enhance knowledge and understanding of translanguaging as pedagogy in higher education in South Africa.

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Professor Angela Creese

Angela then introduced Professor Marilyn Martin-Jones, also from the University of Birmingham and the MOSAIC Centre for Research on Multilingualism. Marilyn welcomed the delegates to the summer school, saying that with delegates from over 20 countries, all researching translanguaging across a wide range of contexts and sites, we had ‘created a contact zone’.

The next workshop, led by TLANG doctoral researchers Jessica Bradley and Piotr Węgorowski aimed to provide a space in which delegates could learn a little bit more about each other and the different research projects taking place across the world. With over 50 people in the room, it wasn’t possible for everyone to introduce their own research so the session started with short introductions. The groups then worked together to discuss their research and how they might use translanguaging as a concept. They talked about commonalities across approaches, methodologies, theoretical approaches and also about differences and divergence. The delegates then wrote their objectives for the summer school on post it notes.

Summer school delegates

Despite the wide variety of contexts in which the delegates work, it quickly became apparent that they have a lot in common. Some participants talked about the blurring of the boundaries between mono- and multilingualism becomes blurred. Similarly, a lot of people considered that thinking beyond traditional concepts of language was an important aspect of their research, extending the focus to include different modalities. Finally, advancing research for a social justice agenda seemed to resonate with many.

Delegates were also asked to think about what they would like to take away from the Summer School. A number of different questions were asked, for example:

  • What are the differences between translanguaging and other related terms?
  • How do you translate the theory of translanguaging into practice, both in pedagogy and language policy contexts?
  • What kind of methodologies can be employed when using translanguaging as a conceptual lens?

We hope to be able to address many of these ambitious questions over the next few days as well as continue to raise questions and participate in interesting discussions. Watch this space to see how our programme develops. The conversation also continues on Twitter under #TLANG2017.

After a break, AHRC Translating Cultures theme leader, Professor Charles Forsdick, presented an overview of the theme, usefully situating the TLANG project within the context of the wide array of other projects within the arts and humanities. Charles described the questions and connections which have arisen across the multiple projects, which represent over forty arts and humanities research areas.

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Professor Charles Forsdick, interpreted by Andy Carmichael

Following Charles’ session, Angela and Adrian introduced the concept of translanguaging. Using data from a previous research project and from TLANG they showed examples of translanguaging and provided a definition, which encompasses the communicative practices in which people engage bringing together their personal biographies and differences. They also suggested that it was an ideological orientation to communication.

The next workshop saw Professor Li Wei talking about a repertoire approach to translanguaging. He highlighted the issue of ‘ownership’ of language, claiming that naming and claiming ownership is a political act. He also challenged the monolingual myth, suggesting that no one speaks a uniform version of language, nor that it is possible for anyone to learn the entire language system. For Li Wei translanguaging is not opposed to code-switching and other related terms but rather moves away from thinking about linguistic codes as separate entities. Instead, the focus is on languaging practices. Moreover, translanguaging allows us to move beyond looking at language only and expand our research agenda to other meaning-making resources.

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Professor Li Wei

The afternoon concluded with a public lecture from professor Li Wei, where he continued some of the main themes raised earlier on, suggesting that translanguaging is a good candidate for a ‘practical theory of language’, raising new questions and providing new opportunities. He commented on a cognitive dimension of translanguaging when he said that we do not think in a specific language but rather think beyond artificial boundaries of language.

In the evening we were treated to a course reception, held at Highbury Hall. This was a great opportunity to continue our conversations and discussions, this time in a beautiful historic house and grounds.


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