Translingual pedagogy is one approach to negotiating the tensions between the expectations of academic discourse and students' rights to their own language as well as a theory to approaching language and language difference. As with any pedagogical method or theory, translingual work may not be for you. However, student demographics in higher education are changing, even in a predominantly white institution such as Texas Christian University. Additionally, in the current political climate, issues around language difference are becoming more and more contentious and potentially dangerous. Therefore, writing instructors, who serve the entire student body, should be attuned to language difference, the standardization of language use, and linguistic inequality. Translingual scholarship is one of the most popular and current theoretical and pedagogical models for broaching these issues.
One this page, you will find survey results from current TCU writing instructors about their experiences with, responses to, and training for non-standard language use (jump to the survey section) and an argument for the benefits of a translingual orientation toward language based on the survey responses and my research and teaching experience (jump to the benefits section).
To gauge the frequency of non-standardized language use at TCU, instructor responses and approaches to non-standard language use, and the needs of instructors, I surveyed all faculty currently teaching WCO courses, either ENGL 10803 or 20803. The response rate was just above 50%, which I consider high for a voluntary survey. Respondents cut across rank and disciplinary lines—ranks include graduate instructor (12), adjunct (3), lecturer (3), instructor (3), faculty (3), and writing center staff (1) and disciplines included rhetoric and composition (11), literature (10), and hybrid (4) with subfields in film, Spanish-language literatures, cultural studies, and creative writing. The questions were as follows:
- What types of non-standard language use (including, but not limited to ESL, world Englishes, English “dialects," and/or code-meshing or switching) do you typically see in your 10803 or 20803 classes? How often do you see this type of writing?
- Are there certain genres of writing where non-standard language is more or less acceptable in your courses?
- Do you comment on non-standard language use in student work? If so, when (drafts, revisions, etc) and how (fix mistakes, point them out only, etc)?
- How does non-standard language use affect the grade of an essay?
- What strategies do you use for helping students with non-standard language use? Do you have any theoretical or pedagogical approaches that you follow?
- What would you like to know about working with non-standard language users in composition courses?
Below are five major trends that appeared in the data.
The majority of writing instructors regularly see students with non-standardized language in TCU classes.
Responses about the frequency of non-standardized language use ran the gamut from "very little and almost never in student writing" to "every semester, I have students who are ESL or who struggle with Standard English." However, 64% of respondents said they regularly have students who use non-standardized language. Some variants include ESL (English as a Second Language), EFL (English as a Foreign Language), code-switching (switching between discourses), code-meshing (mixing discourses), world Englishes (international variants of and on English), and American dialects, such as so-called African American Vernacular English. One respondent noted that s/he saw non-standardized language in upper-division courses more often than in WCO courses.
Very few writing instructor named a specific pedagogical or theoretical method for approaching non-standardized language.
While many instructors listed personal strategies for discussing and responding to non-standardized language, no one listed training in ESL, translanguaging, or any other specific approach to language difference. The one respondent listed Mina Shaughnessy's Errors and Expectations, Flower and Hayes, and Booth as influences and another noted that critical pedagogy informs their approach to non-standardized language use. One other respondent said they were influenced by writing center pedagogy. For the most part, respondents provided personal strategies based on teaching experience. Among the most popular responses were discussing language difference, focusing on rhetorical effectiveness and/or genre conventions, and emphasizing the importance of clarity. Additional responses included providing handouts, meeting with students outside of class, recommending IEP or the writing center, allowing students to write in their native language for in-class activities, grammar lessons, discussing common errors, collecting positive examples from student work, and sharing their personal experiences.
Most writing instructors say the acceptability of non-standardized language is dependent on the genre and can affect grades.
When asked if certain genres allowed for non-standardized language use, almost all respondents mentioned that they are more flexible when it comes to personal, creative, or reflective genres such as the This I Believe essay, literacy autobiographies or narratives, in-class writing activities, and persuasive essays. Others note that whenever narrative is used, such as in introductions or conclusions, code-switching is acceptable. Every respondent that mentioned presentations and/or public speaking allowed for non-standardized language use. However, "formal" work usually did not allow for language variation, particularly academic genres such as argumentative essays and annotated bibliographies. Ultimately, most respondents reduced grades if the non-standardized language affected "clarity" or did not follow genre conventions. One respondent mentioned that they would have difficulty giving an A to a paper that included non-standardized language.
When instructors described their responses to non-standardized language, the majority described something akin to a translingual approach.
Although no respondents used the phrase "translingual," some descriptions of approaches to language difference do reflect a translingual orientation. For example: "I encourage non-standard language use in my composition classes, especially when students are writing personal narratives," "I only comment on how [non-standard language is] used effectively to underscore a larger point, but I refrain from telling someone not to use such language and I certainly don't correct it," "I don't often comment on language use, but instead try to see how it works with what the student is trying to accomplish in their writing," and "I would also like to know how to help these students learn to value their language differences but to also how to help others value language differences and how it can add complexity to writing. How can we get rid of the stigma?" These perspectives—all from different respondents—appear to be in line with translingual theory and pedagogy.
The majority of instructors are interested in learning best practices and some explicitly called for additional training.
Despite differences in rank and disciplinary training, a range of respondents indicated that we need additional training at TCU. The majority of respondents said they would like to know "anything" about how to approach language difference from basic strategies to best practices. One GI noted that "I would like a bit more training working with non-standard languages. We get some in TCC, but perhaps a voluntary workshop of some kind would help." A faculty member in literature argued that since TCU admits non-standardized language users, TCU should "put money into teaching us how to teach them" and noted that TCU "does not offer or encourage this kind of work for professors who specialize in literature." Others reported that issues of language difference have simply fallen off the radar at TCU or that their knowledge is out-dated. Only two respondents said they had "no gaps at this time" or that they do not "really need to know much beyond my own knowledge." Additionally, one respondent wished that we had more resources for ESL students across the whole campus.
Based on the responses from the survey on non-standardized language-use at TCU, translingual scholarship, and my own teaching experience, I recommend translanguaging TCU by having departmental conversations about this scholarship and introducing translingual pedagogy into our classrooms. Below are seven benefits for translanguaging TCU.
Translingual scholarship provides a much needed theoretical and pedagogical approach to language difference at TCU.
As the survey results above suggest, TCU writing instructors often encounter non-standardized language use and want additional training in this area. Therefore, translingual scholarship fills a potential gap in TCU's writing program. Additionally, based on my readings of the results, TCU writing instructors are open to—if not already practicing some form of—translanguaging their courses. Therefore, engaging in translingual scholarship can help frame already existing practices.While instructors are using methods of translanguaging or appear to approach language difference from a translingual perspective, they also seem mostly unaware of the on-going conversation about translingualism in rhetoric and composition. With special issues on the subject, job listings with specialities in translingual and/or ESL scholarship and teaching, numerous presentations about translanguaging classsrooms at CCCC 2017, and CCCC 2018 adopting "languaging" as part of the theme, developing our departmental understanding of translingual scholarship can help us contribute to this broader conversation. Finally, even if TCU may not appear as linguistically diverse as other institutions, our graduate students may go on to teach at various types of institutions where this knowledge will be essential. The other pages of the Learn section help to flesh out the basics of translingual scholarship and its position within the field.
A translingual orientation toward language helps alleviate some of the tension between academic discourse and students' rights to their own language.
One of the wicked problems of rhetoric and composition, particularly first-year writing programs, is the seemingly insurmountable tension between academic discourse and student voices. In the survey, some respondents reflected on this: "I also think it is crucial that students understand the difference between intentional choices and a lack of understanding about English language conventions and grammar" and "I struggle weighing the value of students' right to their own language vs. arguments by scholars of color that students should be taught whatever standard English they need to succeed." These responses raise important questions about our responsibility to students.
A translingual orientation toward language helps to alleviate this tension by framing all language use as performative, in flux, and negotiated. That includes academic discourse. Far from avoiding the complexity of students and faculty making rhetorical choices about how to negotiate academic discourse, a translingual classroom explicitly discusses the stakes of language difference. Many of the readings, assignments, and activities on the Teaching Resources page address, challenge, and complicate academic discourse, linguistic difference, and linguistic oppression. Jerry Won Lee's article about writing assessment and translingualism, "Beyond Translingual Writing," also helps to reconsider our "saviorist expectation that assumes we have a responsibility to enforce some set of norms, such as those of standardized English, on our students" (188). For more on Lee's article, visit the Writing Assessment page.
A translingual approach argues against the notion of monolingualism and dispels the myth of linguistic homogeneity.
A translingual orientation toward language directly challenges a monolingual orientation toward language. As applied linguistic and compositionist Suresh Canagarajah defines it in Translingual Practice (for more about the book and scholar, go here), a monolingual orientation makes us "believe that for communication to be efficient and successful we should employ a common language with shared norms. These norms should typically come from the native speaker's use of the language [and that] languages have their own unique systems and should be kept free of mixing with other languages for meaningful communication" (1). Implicit in this understanding is that people can be monolingual or "have" only one language—translingual scholars argue that individuals "do" language, rather than "have" it. The monolingual orientation toward language leads us to calling our composition courses "English" courses and to assuming that students and instructors who use only English are monolingual. Canagarajah and others encourage us to complicate our assumption that English is a pristine, distinct language that is just now being transformed by globalization. Canagarajah argues that English "has been already always diverse" and that "no community is homogeneous" (57). Therefore, an individual or class that may appear to speak the same form of dominant English can be reunderstood as a community that uses multiple Englishes to negotiate meaning.
By challenging assumptions of monolingualism and linguistic homogeneity, a translingual orientation toward language can promote linguistic diversity in the classroom. That is, when instructors and students have on-going conversations about different discourse communities and literacy practices, the ecology of the classroom allows for more linguistic diversity. Of course, there is a fine line between giving students the freedom to express themselves as they see fit and fetishizing linguistic difference (for more on Paul Kei Matsuda's critique of translingual scholarship, see here and here).
One survey respondent mentioned that "I tend to allow my students to write however they'd like but none have taken me up on that offer. I think this is due to the 'stigma' that exists for non-standard language usage." In my experience, one way to lessen the 'stigma' of language difference is to create a translingual classroom, by using some of these Teaching Resources. It is also important to remember that instructors have linguistic diversity and can leverage this for a translingual class. TCU faculty is becoming increasingly diverse and even seemingly monolingual instructors move in different discourse communities (see also previous section on the myth of monolingualism). For instance, while I did not grow up near the beach in California, I got my bachelor's degree there (Go UCSB Gauchos!). For at least one survey respondent, I would count as linguistically diverse and potentially exhibit non-standardized language use: "I've also seen patterns where students from California—esp. from ocean-side communities—have different English use, almost incomprehensible to me."
For TCU classrooms, which may appear less diverse, translingual texts can provide different viewpoints, but also may encourage students to mine their own experiences for difference. Therefore, translingual texts can either bring in or bring out alternative forms of authorship and communication. Of course, this is a delicate balancing act. Discussing postcolonial literature, Susan Jarratt recognizes that "through our choices of text and every word we say about them we inevitably represent others to our students. . . . Every pedagogical moment is a complex fusion of re-presentation, exercises of executive power, and transformations of consciousness" in her chapter "Beside Ourselves: Rhetoric and Representation in Postcolonial Feminist Writing" for Crossing Borderlands: Composition and Postcolonial Studies (127-128). Still, she argues that this work must be done. I feel the same applies to translingual texts and our responsibility to introduce students to a multiplicity of voices and perspectives. For examples of translingual texts and assignments that promote translanguaging, visit the Teaching Resources page.
Discussing language difference and inequality leads to conversations about race, gender, class, dis/ability, etc.
Discussing language difference and linguistic inequality and oppression invariably leads to conversations about race, gender, class, dis/ability, etc. I see this as a positive aspect of translanguaging a classroom. Because language is ubiquitous and constructs and reflects identity, discussing language becomes intersectional. Many of the readings from the Teaching Resource page discuss how linguistic discrimination connects with racism. In particular, Vershawn Ashanti Young's "Should Writer's Use They Own English," Min-Zhan Lu's "From Silence to Words," June Jordan's "Nobody Mean More to Me," Gloria Anzaldua's "How to Tame a Wild Tongue," and Amy Tan's "Mother Tongue" allow instructors to connect language with race, gender, nationality, and class.
Of course, this also means that translanguaging a class brings instructors and students into Mary Louise Pratt's cultural "contact zone." Conversations may veer in directions you did not anticipate or, perhaps, want. And because language is so personal, emotions and perspectives can be charged. However, I, along with other translingual scholars, argue that this is exactly the work that should be done in a composition classroom. Even though tranlanguaging my courses has taken me places I did not expect to go, conversations are mostly civil, usually productive, sometimes overwhelming, and always worth it.
Encouraging instructors and students to reflect on their linguistic practices can promote linguistic sensitivity.
One crucial step toward translanguaging TCU is encouraging instructors to reflect on their own linguistic practices, histories, and assumptions. It would be remiss if I were to tell everyone to go out and teach translingual texts and have conversations about linguistic inequality if I did not first suggest reflecting on these issues individual lyand, hopefully, as a department. Suresh Canagarajah discusses the importance of including translingual scholarship in teacher training in his article "Translingual Writing and Teacher Development in Composition," which was featured in the special issue of College English on translingual work. He argues that preparing teachers by developing translingual orientation "differ[s] from dominant forms of professional development wherein teachers are armed with predefined norms, materials, and knowledge for classroom purposes" because translingual training causes teachers to be "alert to developing their pedagogies, feedback, and assessment from the ground up" (266). That is, pedagogy is grounded, rather than applied. Canagarajah also cites recent scholarship indicating that "if the pedagogical content and professional knowledge [of teaching training] are not negotiated in relation to the instructors' current beliefs and past experiences or appropriated relation to the professional identities they are developing, their professionalization won't be effective" (266).
When done thoughtfully and modeled well by instructors, students reflecting on their own linguistic practices, complicating their notions of language as fixed, and drawing attention to linguistic inequality and oppression can lead to linguistic sensitivity. In my own experience, incorporating translingual literacy narratives is particularly helpful in developing this sensitivity. Students begin to understand that everyone has their own experiences with and connections to literacy. Therefore, students can begin to identify with users of different languages. At least that is my hope! Some students have provided this feedback and you can see that on my research about using literacy narratives in first-year writing for CCCC 2016. You can also see my literacy narrative assignment here.