[lg policy] 'Translanguaging' Better For SA Classroom Dynamics Than English-Language Imperialism

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Sat May 12 11:04:48 EDT 2018


 'Translanguaging' Better For SA Classroom Dynamics Than English-Language
Imperialism A strong tendency towards a predominantly English education
system is noticeable in multilingual South African schools.

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   Joyce West <https://www.huffingtonpost.co.za/author/joyce-west> Language
   Lecturer at Aros & part-time lecturer at the University of Pretoria

Hero Images/ Getty Images

Over the past decade, not only in South Africa but around the world, a
great deal of research has focused on multilingual education. In contrast
to multilingual education, the growth of English as a world language and
lingua franca is also a topic of influence within education.

A strong tendency towards English imperialism in our education system is
noticeable in multilingual South African schools. Sixty-eight percent of
learners are enrolled in schools where English is the language of learning
and teaching [LOLT], while only seven percent are English mother-tongue
speakers.

A growing demand for an English LOLT, which is not learners' mother tongue,
is one of the factors believed by many to contribute towards poor academic
achievement in South Africa, and it can be considered a form of 21st
century English linguistic imperialism.

After decades of colonialism, the whole purpose of the new South African
Language in Education Policy [LIEP] inaugurated in 1997, was to replace
discriminatory colonial and apartheid language policies and promote
multilingualism, indigenous languages and mother-tongue education.

The LIEP has regrettably not been realised in schools. English as the
predominant LOLT is currently dominating multilingual South African
classrooms, and mother tongues are even further devalued.

English linguistic imperialism is altering South African classroom
dynamics. Teachers can no longer use "English-only" teaching strategies in
multilingual classrooms and still expect success. The multicultural and
multilingual nature of South African classrooms demands the decolonisation
of imperialist linguistic teaching strategies. The implementation of
dynamic bilingual or multilingual teaching strategies such as
"translanguaging", a teaching strategy built on the importance of
mother-tongue education, should be considered.

Teachers and school language policies need to be willing to change and
accept teaching strategies that are different from current "English-only"
practices.

Translanguaging has shown to be invaluable around the world in decolonising
imperialistic language practices, promoting mother-tongue education and
creating multilingual awareness in classrooms.

Translanguaging is a dynamic and flexible approach that helps learners make
sense of their multilingual environment by centring around flexible
bi-/multilingual practices and teaching strategies, and not on languages
themselves. Translanguaging promotes the idea of using any or all
language(s) available to a learner, as their linguistic repertoire, to help
develop and grow their concept-building in more than one language.

However, teachers and school language policies need to be willing to change
and accept teaching strategies that are different from current
"English-only" practices. Unfortunately, the willingness of teachers and
schools is still up for debate. Teachers and school policies currently
reject teaching strategies such as translanguaging for "pragmatic" reasons,
and because it allows learners to use "all" their languages flexibly within
the classroom.

Current school policies ignore the fundamental difference between mono- and
multilingual learners and consequently do not allow for multilingual
discourse within the classroom. Many South Africans believe that the faster
a child can learn English through an approach that is not polluted or
influenced by other languages, the more success a child will have in
language learning and future endeavours. English is therefore seen as a
ticket to economic prosperity.

Unfortunately, this is a misguided and ignorant way of thinking.
Mother-tongue education, an internationally accepted principle, is the
ticket to economic prosperity. A child's mother tongue lays the foundation
for further language learning.

Internationally renowned professor Jim Cummins' interdependence theory
emphasises the interrelated nature of languages and how a learner's
mother-tongue development will influence their second-language acquisition.
If this principle of language interdependence is not understood, English
will continue to dominate our schools, and poor academic achievement can be
expected.

I believe that South African schools and their learners can also greatly
benefit from translanguaging, since our classrooms also frequently
represent a diverse number of languages.

In 2016, I received a Fulbright scholar-in-residence scholarship to the
U.S., where I had the opportunity to lecture at Dordt College and do
research on the topic of translanguaging. This scholarship offers young
South African lecturers an opportunity to teach at a U.S. institution.

The Fulbright scholarship also resulted in me meeting Professor Ofelia
Garcia, one of the greatest researchers in the field of translanguaging, at
the City University of New York (CUNY). During my visit to CUNY I watched,
listened and learnt about the ways that the translanguaging theory can be
implemented when the learners in the classroom do not speak the language of
the school at home.

New York teachers spoke up at a conference about the success that they have
had in multilingual classrooms. Some of those teachers explained that due
to an influx of refugee and immigrant learners, the multilingual nature of
their classrooms frequently extends to having 10 or even more languages
involved in the classroom.

During my visit teachers also demonstrated how translanguaging strategies
have assisted Spanish-speaking learners who have experienced interrupted
schooling. Those learners benefitted from translanguaging, as some of them
had never spoken English before they continued their schooling in the U.S.

I believe that South African schools and their learners can also greatly
benefit from translanguaging, since our classrooms also frequently
represent a diverse number of languages. Sixty-one percent of our learners
can benefit from leveraging their mother tongue in the classroom in order
to assist learning.

Translanguaging can, therefore, serve as a way of decolonising our
imperialist English-language practices, lead to social justice — and
ultimately, helping us to achieve the multilingual ideal of our
Constitution.


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 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com
http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/~haroldfs/

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