Reader Response Journal

Ubuntu Translanguaging: An Alternative Framework for Complex Multilingual Encounters by Leketi Makalela

In this article, Makalela outlines his framework for ubuntu translanguaging, an approach to translanguaging informed by African history, cultural values and linguistic realities. He begins by contrasting Euro-colonial notions of the nation state and linguistic purity with an African approach to multilingualism that blurs the boundaries between languages and reflects the linguistic continuum of many African languages, which he believes have been inappropriately separated into distinct languages according to imported norms. He presents the example of Mapungubwe, a pre-colonial multilingual city state located in the Limpopo valley, as a site of linguistic and cultural confluence, as shown by archaeological artifacts. He argues that it is the European practice of dividing Africa into colonies with boundaries based on colonial language borders that led to Africa’s language struggles, including using poorly-understood colonial languages in education and excluding indigenous African languages from positions of esteem. He argues that translanguaging is the proper framework for thinking about the complex multilingual encounters typical in African settings, and presents his own idea of fuzzy languaging to describe situations involving more than two languages in communicative encounters (in his research he has documented up to six being used in a classroom in the course of a day). In contrast with both additive and subtractive bilingualism, he suggests that translanguaging fits better with the African experience of learning multiple languages before entering school, a situation where numbering the L1, L2, etc. doesn’t make sense. He puts forward the idea of ubuntu translanguaging, which combines the South African idea of Ubuntu (I am because we are; we are because I am, which he abbreviates as “I x we”) with translanguaging in a four part model, based on incompletion (languages are incomplete without other languages), interdependence (interdependent multilingualism means that speakers cannot make full sense of their surroundings without using multiple languages), and both vertical and horizontal flows of information (teacher to student would be vertical, while student to student would be horizontal). In his model, these four pillars are constantly disrupting and recreating language boundaries. He then includes some suggestions for an ubuntu translanguaging pedagogy, meant to normalize the systematic inclusion of multiple languages in creative ways in the classroom. He notes that translanguaging strategies reflect the internal reality of multilingual learners, for whom their languages co-exist, and that they can improve literacy outcomes as well as home-school connections. He ends with a call for us to shift our perspective from the “monolingual multilingualism” perspective inherent in additive/subtractive bilingualism towards ubuntu translanguaging, with its fluid approach to multilingualism, grounded in African cultural competence.

I first read this article last year when I was preparing my keynote on African translanguaging and I revisited it after reading an article on codeswitching in a South African classroom in my class on multilingualism and plurilingualism. Makalela is drawing on the work of Ofelia Garcia, who he references several times throughout the article, but adapting her ideas within a distinctly African worldview. I find the emphasis on named languages as a European invention quite intriguing and am wondering whether other scholars who argue against the validity of named languages have examined the concept within contexts with language continuums, where the boundaries between languages are already much more porous. For example, the languages that my students in Tanzania say they speak don’t reflect the same distinctions that Ethnologue makes for Tanzanian languages. My students see Chagga as one languages (with different varieties) and Ethnologue sees it as several, but the reverse is true for Hacha. It’s therefore much less of a conceptual leap to think of translanguaging as natural, when there’s less of a consensus of what constitutes a language or not in your context. I also want to think more deeply about the ideas of incompletion and interdependence, since those are the aspects that seem most directly tied to ubuntu, and therefore least reflected in the wider literature.

Makalela, L. (2016) Ubuntu translanguaging: An alternative framework for complex multilingual encounters, Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies, 34(3), 187-196.

Reader Response Journal

Teaching and Learning in a Multilingual School: Choices, Risks and Dilemmas by Tara Goldstein

Tara Goldstein’s Teaching and Learning in a Multilingual School is the outcome of a four year ethnographic study she conducted in the late 90s at a Toronto high school with a large population of immigrant students from Hong Kong. (At the school just 38% of the the students were L1 English speakers and 35% spoke Cantonese as their L1). Each chapter includes large quotations from the participants themselves, as well as Goldstein’s analysis and suggestions for the pedagogical implications of the themes discussed in the chapter. The first section of the books contains chapters which introduce Northside, the school and the context of the study, explore the ways teachers at Northside chose to enact multilingual or monolingual practices in their classes and their reasons for their decisions, and examine different understandings of the role of student silence in the classroom, particularly in regards to the tensions of working in small groups for multilingual students. The second section focuses on linguistic discrimination, with chapters on resisting linguicism and anti-immigrant discourse, the challenges of giving oral presentations in class, with a focus on the shared burden of communication between non-native speakers and native listeners and how non-native speakers can develop the discourse competence needed to present effectively, and a conclusion on the ways school policies, which explicitly valued multilingualism as an asset at the same time they set English as the schools language of instruction, both challenge and support students’ multilingualism. Most interesting for me was the inclusion of the play Hong Kong, Canada, which Goldstein wrote based on the same ethnographic data, which is included in its entirety in an appendix. Also includes in appendices are Goldstein’s discussion of the decisions she made in her approach to ethnography and presenting her participants voices (including her question whether this story is in fact hers to tell) and the text that one of her research assistants used to teach students oral presentation skills.

All told, there’s quite a lot in this book that was interesting, and it read incredibly quickly and easily, probably since it’s designed as a teacher education textbook rather than a book targeting other academics. It’s based on a lot of scholarly work I’m pretty familiar with, notably Rosina Lippi-Green’s work on linguicism, accent discrimination and the burden of communication, and Bonny Norton’s theories of identity and investment. I thought the in depth descriptions of the context were compelling and it was great to see so much of what her participants had to say in their own voices. I appreciated the fact that she didn’t just end with the analysis of the ethnography and instead took it a step farther to include the pedagogical discussions, since bridging the divide between research and practice is an incredibly important step that I wish more TESOL researchers incorporated deliberately into their work. But by far the most valuable piece of this is the play itself. Ethnodrama is an area that I’m increasingly interested in learning how to do myself, since it so obviously combines my areas of interest, and it’s great to see how research data can be turned into compelling art, which gives us another lens of looking at the material. I used a scene from the play as part of a workshop I did on drama for social justice in TESOL, and it was clear how much there was in her text for actor/teachers to dive into. For that reason alone, I’d recommend reading this.

Goldstein, T. (2003). Teaching and Learning in a Multilingual School: Choices, Risks and Dilemmas. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Reader Response Journal

“I May Be a Native Speaker, But I’m Not Monolingual”: Reimagining All Teachers’ Linguistic Identities in TESOL by Elizabeth M. Ellis

In this article, Ellis explores teachers’ linguistic identities, beyond the NEST/NNEST dichotomy, which she argues simplifies teachers’ experiences of language, since it focuses exclusively on English. In the NEST v. NNEST mindset, NESTs are presumed to be monolingual and NNESTs are presumed to be bilingual, deficient in English and often speakers of the same language of their students and the dominant model of teaching English in English hides teachers’ other language skills. Ellis elicited personal linguistic narratives from 29 English teachers in 7 countries that contradict these constructs. She found that many of the so-called NESTs were in fact multilingual, with varied language learning experiences that sometimes included being able to speak the same language as their students to a high degree of proficiency. In addition, teachers who were perceived as NNESTS not only had broad linguistic repertoires and varied language learning experiences, they also often considered themselves to be native speakers (sometimes with a caveat about their accents). Ellis draws on traditions such as bilingual life-writing (memoirs such as Eva Hoffman’s Lost in Translation), plurilingualism (a European approach that takes a broader view of linguistic repertoires than multilingualism, by acknowledging various levels of competence, attrition and relearning across the languages an individual knows), and the move towards recognizing the learner’s L1 as both a learning tool and an important aspect of their identity, to establish a place for teacher’s multilingual learning experiences as an important aspect of their teaching and teacher identity. She envisions a world where teachers will regularly be asked “how rich is your linguistic repertoire and how can this be deployed as a pedagogical resource?” instead of whether they are a native or nonnative speaker or which variety of English they speak (606).

For me, this article was particularly relevant, because I am a multilingual native English speaker, and I often feel like the rest of my linguistic repertoire gets erased or is invisible to my students. I’ve been using much more of a plurilingual approach to teaching here in Ecuador, where my classes are of necessity a hybrid of Spanish and English. But it was only last week that one group of my students thought to ask me if I speak anything else (which I do, to varying levels of competence). I really think that for students to see their teachers as language learning role models is really powerful, and I wish more teachers would include their language histories when they introduce themselves to new classes. For example, I don’t know how any of my previous language teachers learned their languages and I don’t know if any of them spoke languages beyond English and what we were learning. I think that standardizing the “what is your linguistic repertoire” question as part of the hiring process would be really beneficial. I remember when I first arrived here how frustrating it was that my principal just saw me as a deficient Spanish speaker, rather than a multicompetent user of many languages. As a native English speaker, my L1 is valued, but this experience gave me a sense of the frustrations that I hear my NNEST friends talk about, where they are defined by what they aren’t, rather than recognized for the skills and abilities they do have. I really hope Ellis’ ways of conceptualizing language repertoires catch on within the field, and that differentiating childhood home languages from current dominant languages and accounting for both circumstantial and elective language learning experience becomes more common. I know that they languages I speak benefit me hugely as a teacher, and I think that these experiences should be valued throughout the field. By doing this, we can move away from valuing nativeness as the most important factor in a teacher’s linguistic identity, and start creating more accurate and less biased ways of talking about teachers’ language backgrounds. This would also open the way for more plurilingual classroom pedagogy and structured reflection on past language learning experiences as part of teacher training programs, which would better serve our students.

Ellis, E. M. (2016.) “I may be a native speaker, but I’m not monolingual”: Reimagining all teachers’ linguistic identities in TESOL. TESOL Quarterly, 50(3), 597-630.

Reader Response Journal

Plurilingual Pedagogical Practices in a Policy-Constrained Context: A Northern Ugandan Case Study by Doris Maandebo Abiria, Margaret Early and Maureen Kendrick

This article examines the ways a group of teachers at a primary school in Northern Uganda used plurilingual and multimodal techniques in their subject-area classes. In Uganda, schools are allowed to use one local language as the medium of instruction until 3rd grade, but then are expected to switch to English in fourth grade (called P4 for primary 4). While the school in the study was in a Lugbara speaking area, it had students from a number of different countries and language backgrounds, making for a very multilingual student body. Uganda is also an exam-driven context, where the students are expected to take high stakes tests in English, which often have very poor results. The school in question is run by the government and has very few resources (P4 initially had over 100 students per class, until they regrouped them into classes of 77). The six teachers in the study said that when the asked students questions in English, they would get blank stares, so they developed alternative pedagogies to reach them, despite these being in opposition to the stated government policies. The primary strategies that the teachers used were translating into the dominant local language, using students as peer tutors to reach those who spoke other languages and using a wide range of semiotic modes to communicate meaning, including dramas, demonstrations, songs, drawings and role plays. As Abiria, one of the researchers, notes, these strategies were effective because they came from the teachers themselves, rather than being imposed by the Ministry. Despite these innovations, the teachers were conflicted. Challenges they faced included breaking the ministry rules in a context where school inspectors have a lot of power, initial training that was focused on theory rather than practice, lack of on-going professional development opportunities, curriculum restraints, including the need to teach very specialized vocabulary, national examinations conducted exclusively in English, lack of time and resources and large class sizes. Nonetheless, the etchers continued to use a range of linguistic and multimodal resources to communicate content effectively to their students, because according to one teacher “they are so excited…they are free” (p. 587). and the alternative is disengagement and students dropping out. The fact that the head teacher and parents saw the importance of these strategies (and the futility of the monolingual alternative) was also an incentive for the teachers to keep using them.

I am always interested in reading about TESOL practice in Africa, and East Africa in particular. I love comparing the situations in these studies to those at my schools in Tanzania. It’s interesting that Ugandan schools do the same sort of switch of the medium of instruction as in Tanzania, they just do it earlier, and in a country without a single dominant language to serve as a lingua franca between different groups, the way Swahili is in Tanzania, they leave the choice of language of instruction for grades 1-3 up to the local schools. It’s also interesting that Northern Uganda is so multiethnic, multilingual and multinational, because my area of Tanzania was almost exclusively populated by students from the same tribe. However, some of the challenges, including the importance of the national examinations, the lack of resources and the fact that ministry decisions seem out of touch with teacher’s on the ground realities are quite similar. Also, the more I read about plurilingual pedagogies, the more practical they seem to me. Despite the fact that I speak Swahili, in Tanzania I taught almost (but not quite) entirely in English. I wonder how I could have used these teachers’ techniques there. I think the integration of the translanguaging methodologies with other communicative modalities is a particularly important idea, and something I’m trying to use in my classes here in Ecuador, where I use Spanish alongside my MI-based approaches in an attempt to reach the students. Like the Ugandan teachers, I’m a bit conflicted about the approaches I’m using here, but I think they’re better than the alternative of students’ blank stares and lack of comprehension.

Abiria, D. M., Early, M. & Kendrick, M. (2013). Plurilingual pedagogical practices in a policy-constrained context: A northern Ugandan case study. TESOL Quarterly, 47(3), 567-590.

Reader Response Journal

Using Local Languages in English Language Classrooms by Ahmar Mahboob and Angel Lin

This chapter examines why local languages are devalued in ELT pedagogy and proposes a model for incorporating local languages into the classroom in a multimodal way. After the Grammar Translation method fell out of fashion, the inner-circle dominated methodological developments, which meant that techniques were being designed with an ESL context, without a dominant language shared by all students, in mind. In this context, focusing on English-only instruction made sense, but the techniques were exported to other countries as the most current and modern approaches, without adapting to local EFL conditions. The result of the global spread of these inner circle approaches has been the perpetuation of the myths that languages are stable, standardized and rule-governed, rather than socially situated and fluid; the language learning is a zero sum game, where using the local language detracts from students’ ability to learn the target language and that language is a commodity that can be bought, sold and internationally marketed, turning teaching into an exchange of goods. In contrast to these harmful approaches, Mahboob and Lin argue for “more inclusive and context dependent models of language” (p. 9). They argue that local languages can be used in class for ideational, textual and interpersonal functions. They analyze an extract from a study Lin did in 1999, where a bilingual teacher in Hong Kong used codeswitching for Intiation-Response-Feedback exchanges. When the exchanges focused on the story (interpersonal function), all three phases were conducted in Cantonese, but when the exchanges were about language (ideational or textual functions), the initiation and response phases were in either language and were repeated until the student response was in English with the feedback in English as well. In this way, she started where the students were comfortable and built them towards the English expressions. They end their chapter by outlining Lin’s Multimodalities/Entextualization Cycle (MEC) as a method for systematically incorporating local languages into the classroom. In the first phase, students’ interest in the topic is raised through multimodalities and the use of familiar language, either LL or TL. In the second phase, students read a target language text and unpack it using everyday language, either LL or TL, along with multimodal representations of the meaning. In the third stage, students entextualize (put the experience in the text) using scaffolded academic target language in the appropriate genres.

The historical context that they give on why English only instruction is so dominant is really useful for thinking about why its ok to challenge the existing paradigm. Essentially, the use of the inner circle strategies in EFL contexts was never consciously chosen as appropriate (and certainly wasn’t based on research showing its effectiveness), but instead was a quirk of the cultural and economic dominance of the inner circle countries, which were uncritically adopted as normative worldwide, rather than being perceived as locally and contextually specific to the countries the techniques were developed in. The balance between local languages in the class is something I’ve been thinking about a lot here in Ecuador, where I use a fair bit of Spanish in my teaching. The MEC approach and the example of the teacher in Hong Kong both seem worthwhile, but they assume the teacher has full (rather than partial) abilities in the local language. I’m interesting in exploring whether there are any resources or studies out there about teachers who are not native speakers of the local language using it as an effective teaching tool in the classroom, and if so, what the best ways to do that are. It’s also interesting to me how strong the discourse of shame around LL in the classroom is too, which is definitely something I feel here at times. It’m thinking back on World Teach’s training, where they didn’t advocate for an English-only classroom, but they did discourage the use of Spanish to teach English content (instead suggesting it only for procedural information, like directions). It’s a step in the right direction, but not far enough yet. In contrast, the Edificar training was super dismissive of any valid role for Spanish inside the English classroom, which is problematic and increasingly out of date. Reading this now has encouraged me to incorporate plutilingual pedagogy into my EcuaTESOL proposal, alongside multiple intelligences and multimodality.

Mahboob, A., & Lin, A. M. Y. (2016). Using local languages in English language classrooms. In Willy A. Renandya and Handoyo P. Widodo (Eds.), English language teaching today: Building a closer link between theory and practice. New York: Springer.