How ‘Translanguaging’ Makes Learning Languages Faster

For many schools, using two or more languages in a lesson instead of learning each language separately has been a controversial idea for many years.

Translanguaging. It sounds complicated, but trust us, it isn’t. You may or may not have heard the term earlier, but your brain has probably done it before!

Imagine you are a Tamil-speaking student who knows only a few words of English. Your teacher is explaining the different parts of a flower, and even though you don’t quite fully understand, the labelled diagram on the blackboard helps. At this moment, the brain does something interesting- it remembers whatever you already know about flowers in Tamil, then uses it to make sense of the information in English.

This is Translanguaging!

What makes Translanguaging important?

For schools, using two or more languages in a lesson instead of learning each language separately has been a controversial idea for many years. Often, new ideas about education face hesitation and resistance. In our endless pursuit to improve pedagogy, we can’t afford to ignore the benefits of Translanguaging any longer.

Translanguaging is particularly well-suited for a country like India, which has 21 different official languages, all rich and complex in their own ways. India needs a model of education that reflects our diversity.

We’re not the only ones talking about Translanguaging. The National Education Policy of India 2020 advocates the use of translingual methods of teaching as well-

“Teachers will be encouraged to use a bilingual approach, including bilingual teaching-learning materials, with those students whose home language may be different from the medium of instruction. All languages will be taught with high quality to all students; a language does not need to be the medium of instruction for it to be taught and learned well.

– Excerpt from the National Education Policy of India

So why is Translanguaging not used more in Indian classrooms?

The power and potential of Translanguaging lie in its ability to transcend communication barriers. It places importance on both the native language and the new language.

Despite this, most teachers are still discouraged from using bilingualism in classrooms. We see this especially in private schools, where English is the medium of instruction. A deeply rooted prejudice in the Indian educational landscape, is the belief that using native languages in classrooms somehow weakens English language learning. We see how the opposite is true.

This prejudice is the main reason why many teachers are not trained to employ translanguaging in an effective manner. Instead, they follow the traditional ‘immersion method’. The immersion method rests on the belief that a new language is best taught only when the learner is completely immersed in it.

Does the immersion method work?

Probably not. The ASER 2018 Report shows that 35% of private school students in Grade 5 can’t read a basic Grade 2 level paragraph. More worrisome is how language learning levels in the private school system have remained stagnant for a decade.

Source: Census, 2018

Given the number of multilingual people in India, both in urban and rural areas, translanguaging is an underutilised resource for all kinds of communication, including teaching.

What are the two types of Translanguaging?

  1. Impromptu Translanguaging
    This type of translanguaging is spontaneous, where the teacher switches between the native language and English in a natural, conversational manner. For example, if the majority of the class speaks Hindi, the teacher might praise a student’s answer with “Accha, that’s great!” (“Alright, that’s great!”) or the students might come up with responses like “Woh kya hai na, this is a verb and not an adjective kyuki ‘run’ toh action word hota hai.” (“You know what, this is a verb and not an adjective since run is an action word”).

  2. Planned Translanguaging
    In this type of translanguaging, the teacher makes conscious decisions about the learning outcomes, keeping the multilingual diversity of the students in mind. A few ways to employ this approach include using flashcards with words written in multiple languages, translating instructions between the mother tongue and English, and providing resources like stories in different languages from different cultures.

Source: Patna Daily

How to use Translanguaging in the Classroom

Translanguaging can sound rather abstract in theory, so here are some practical suggestions that teachers can use in the classroom.
(The following list is adapted from a presentation by Kate Seltzer in 2015.)


  1. Give student reading material in English and prompt them to discuss/analyse what they’ve just read, in their mother tongue.
  2. Encourage students to read and research for projects in both languages.
  3. Supplement English reading sessions with native language readings in the same topic/theme.
  4. Encourage students to read individually in multiple languages.

Listening and Speaking

  1. Allow students to explain and share ideas using English and their mother tongue. Another student can translate if you don’t speak that particular native language.
  2. Have students interview one another using both languages and then share what they learned using English.
  3. As a school, create a multilingual listening centre composed of fiction and non-fiction texts in different classrooms.
  4. Promote fluency in writing in both languages.
  5. Provide students with bilingual dictionaries (especially ones with pictures for better understanding).


  1. Group students into small teams so they can become familiar with different native languages while they discuss, then present in English.
  2. Assign newcomers a “buddy” to show them around the school, answer questions, and help them ease into the new language(s).

Have you used the Translanguaging method to teach or learn a language?

We’d love to know what you think in the comments below!

1. Anderson, J., & Lightfoot, A. (2018). Translanguaging in English Language Classrooms in India: Current perceptions and future possibilities. International education of bilingual education and bilingualism.
2. Canagarajah, S. (2011b). Translanguaging in the classroom: Emerging issues for research and pedagogy. In L. Wei (Ed.), Applied linguistics review (Vol. 2, pp. 1-27). Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.
3. Canagarajah, S. (2013). Translingual Practice. New York, NY: Routledge.
4. National Education Policy 2020. NEP_Final_English.pdf referred on 10/08/2020.

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