Summer School: Day Three

Jessica Bradley and Piotr Wegorowski 

Wednesday was the third day of the summer school and the focus for the day was on translanguaging in education. Despite the continuing heat, our enthusiasm is not wearing off!  We started the day with an extra session – a fascinating talk led by two of the delegates, Erin Moriarty Harrelson and Amandine Le Maire, both based at Heriot Watt University, together with the sign language interpreters who have been working with us over the past week, providing interpreting for Erin and Amandine. Their presence, participation and their interpretation of the talks and discussions have added a fascinating and important dimension to our understanding about translanguaging, embodiment and multimodality.  It was fascinating to hear how deaf people translanguage across modalities, having to deal with different varieties of sign language, spoken and written languages and many others. On a related subject, a very interesting paper has just been published (Kusters, A., Spotti, M., Swanwick, R., & Tapio, E. (2017). Beyond languages, beyond modalities: Transforming the study of semiotic repertoires, International Journal of Multilingualism, DOI: 10.1080/14790718.2017.132165), the required reading for Adrian’s workshop on Tuesday.

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Erin Moriarty Harrelson

Multilingual Realities in Migrant Language Education

The main focus of Wednesday’s summer school sessions was translanguaging in education. During the morning, the Leeds-based research team talked about their research and its implications for adult migrant education. Dr James Simpson started by underlining the importance of the concepts of the contact zone (drawing on Mary Louise Pratt’s 1991 article, ‘the arts of the contact zone’) and translanguaging spaces (e.g. Li Wei, 2011; Garcia and Li Wei, 2014) within the four stages of the Leeds-based case study. Research Fellow Jolana Hanusova introduced us to the ways the team worked with the key participants from Leeds and gave us an insight into carrying out ethnographic research with a key participant. After examining some data collected in a home setting during a dinnertime conversation (from the Business case study, downloadable here), we challenged the notion of a ‘home language’. Delegates made insightful comments about how the data demonstrated the playful use of the languages children are exposed to in school and other contexts. We noticed how the school space becomes present in the home space and how learning was taking place at a dinner table, with all participants learning from one another. We also discussed the difficulties of defining what one specific dominant ‘home language’ is, which is a reality for many families living multilingual lives. Especially as very often it is not just about ‘language’ as such, but multiple meaning making practices.

The multimodal focus of communication became particularly salient when we turned to look at the video data from the capoeira sessions, with James arguing that translanguaging is not restricted to (spoken) language. Again, this continued a central theme for the summer school, linking back in particular to Li Wei’s talks on Monday, to John’s presentation and to Adrian’s session on translanguaging and the body. We talked about the use of communicative repertoires not only for meaning-making but also for the expression of identity. James then juxtaposed our discussions and understandings of language against the circulating monolinguialist and monolingualising policy discourses, which in the UK assume that English is key to social cohesion.

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Dr James Simpson 

The session finished with Dr Emilee Moore, visiting researcher from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, showing us an example of academic research with undocumented migrants, who were learning Catalan. She explained how the classroom practice ignored not only students’ repertoires but also did not prepare them to communicate in the majority language outside of the classroom. Emilee explained how researchers and volunteers helped to develop multilingual learning materials and we considered how research can be integrated with classroom pedagogy. You can read the research Emilee referred to in a book chapter by Maria Rosa Garrido and Xavier Oliva, which can be found in a volume edited by James Simpson and Anne Whiteside.

Translanguaging as a decolonial approach to language in education: case studies from South Africa

The afternoon session was off to a very lively start with a bit of singing and dancing led by our South African colleagues. Dr Carolyn McKinney from the University of Cape Town, drawing on her project work, talked to us about decoloniality. She explained what coloniality was, framing it in terms of a result of colonialism, which manifests itself in lasting inequalities in power relations, knowledge production, labour and many other spheres of life. Through processes of decoloniality we can make visible what is invisible, an approach which can be applied to language.

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Dr Carolyn McKinney

Carolyn focussed on language ideologies. Coloniality in South Africa is not solely about the dominance of English but also about deciding what counts as a language. Carolyn suggested that African languages in South Africa can be seen as colonial constructs – even though some of them are named in the South African constitutions as official languages they were not entextualised by the communities who use them.

We considered implications for language pedagogy, based on the premise that languages are social constructs. Some of the comments in response to this workshop included that we can focus on teaching communication skills rather than policing artificial boundaries. Similarly, we might think about moving away from the idea of teaching languages as separate subjects. Carolyn demonstrated how people who do not feel they have great proficiency in a dominant language engaged with multiple repertoires to communicate effectively.

Translanguaging as an alternative pedagogy

Carolyn’s session was followed by Dr Mbulungeni Madiba from the University of Cape Town, who led the final workshop of the day. Mbulu talked about the use of translanguaging in South African universities, describing a disjunction between policy and practice. He suggested that there is a gap that exists between language policy as text, language policy as discourse, and language policy as practice. Mbulu argued that policy as a text, trying to set norms, does not handle translanguaging very well as it wants to “tame the wild” and limit the language use rather than open it up.

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Dr Mbulungeni Madiba

Translanguaging has a potential to give students agency to open up spaces for themselves. Students are able to discuss more detailed aspects of concepts they are discussing in languages other than English. Translanguaging resolves the tension between students’ multilingual realities and institutional rigid bounded-language policy. Instead of having to learn academic definitions in a specific language students are able to engage critically with the actual concepts. Translanguaging challenges the requirement for acquiring academic language in favour of deep learning. Mbulengeni showed us some videos demonstrating the practice and showing how students learn maths, helping them to achieve better results and leading to greater success rates.

We met in the evening for the conference dinner, which was held at a restaurant next to the Bull Ring market in the centre of Birmingham – bringing the project home to the site of the first phase of the TLANG research. In happy (and hot) surroundings we ate a Chinese buffet and some drank cold beer. After the meal, many participants demonstrated their excellent karaoke and dancing skills…

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