Reimagining English language learners from a translingual perspective

translanguagingThis article, written for ELT Journal, explores the potential implications of translanguaging and translingualism for foreign language teaching and learning, especially English language teaching. It reports on an exploratory study of ‘EFL learners’ in the UK, finding that over 76% of them perceive a need for translingual practices in their varied future professions and studies. It examines the implications of more translingual language practices, both as product and process of the foreign language classroom, and also provides practical suggestions for teachers working in both ‘mixed L1’ (so called ‘multilingual’) and ‘shared L1’1 (previously, and wrongly, ‘monolingual’) classrooms for making their own teaching more “L1 inclusive”.

The self-identified future language use profiles of 116 adult ‘EFL’ learners (from Anderson 2017)

While the 21st-century has seen a increase in advocacy for more “L1 use” in English language teaching, theorisations of competence and resulting assumptions about best practice in language teaching all remain located within a monolingual vision of communicative competence (e.g. Canale, 1983). But what would English language teaching be like if, rather than seeing the L1 as a ‘resource’ to be used ‘judiciously’, we understand it as a fundamental and holistic competence onto which we necessarily add all new languaging resources?

What will teaching and learning look like if we succeed in moving beyond what Guy Cook (2010: 21) has called the “intralingual” paradigm that dominated the last 100+ years of language teaching?

The article examines these questions, and offers exploratory answers. Click here (and scroll down) for a free link to the article.

Translingual user versus native-speaker

If we recognise translingual practices to be both historically commonplace and increasing in the 21st century (García 2009, Canagarajah 2013), they are potentially able to offer a very different vision of “authenticity” for language teaching, one that does not rely on the native speaker or Chomsky’s (e.g. 1965) idealised (i.e. non-existent) native-speaker community. Such a vision recognises the translingual user of English not only as a more appropriate model for English language learners (ELLs), but also a more effective teacher, potentially (in theory at least) displacing the native speaker fallacy (Phillipson 1992) that has disadvantaged the vast majority of English language teachers worldwide for decades.

The article also provides suggestions for how translingual practices can be introduced into language classrooms, both in mixed-L1 and shared-L1 contexts, for awareness raising, skill development and identity affirmation for ELLs. It offers practical ideas, such as a suggestion for translingual analysis of news stories, based on early work into translanguaging carried out by Cen Williams (1996) in Wales in the 1980s, and recommendations for younger learner classes, including the excellent Translanguaging Guide [see here] by Celic and Seltzer (2013), designed for multilingual K-12 contexts in the US, but potentially easily adaptable to younger learner classrooms around the world.

If you’re interested in reading the article in full, follow the link below to the Publications page of my website. Scroll down to find a free click-through link to the full article online and the PDF (the link cannot be shared here for OUP permissions reasons): 

Upcoming talks on translingualism and translanguaging

If you are interested in discussing these ideas and the implications of these findings, I’ll be doing three talks in the next few weeks on this very topic:

Translingualism and translanguaging: what are they and why are they important for the future of ELT? Saturday 17th June Future of ELT Conference 2017 Regent’s University, London, UK
Reimagining English language learners from a translingual perspective Saturday 24th June ETP Live! 2017  Brighton, UK
Translanguaging in English language classrooms in India: why, when and how? Friday 30th June English Language Teachers Association of India Annual Conference 2017  Kochi, Kerala, India

I look forward to seeing you at one of these events if you are going. If not, please post your comments and reflections below. The article is currently in the Advance Access section of ELT Journal, due for print publication in 2018. It can currently be cited as:

 Anderson, J. (2017) Reimagining English language learners from a translingual perspective. ELT Journal Advance Access. doi:10.1093/elt/ccx029


  1. I use these terms in place of the traditional terms ‘multilingual classroom’ and ‘monolingual classroom’, respectively, given that every language classroom is by definition multilingual. L1 here refers to the prior ‘languacultural’ (Agar 1994) resources of the learning community (the class), rather than the learners.


Agar, M. (1994). Language Shock: Understanding the Culture of Conversation. New York, NY: William Morrow.

Canagarajah, A. S. (2013). Translingual practice. New York/Abingdon, UK: Routledge.

Canale, M. (1983). From communicative competence to communicative language pedagogy. In J. C. Richards & R. W. Schmidt (Eds.). Language and Communication. New York: Longman.

Celic, C. and K. Seltzer. (2013). Translanguaging: A CUNY-NYSIEB Guide for Educators. New York, NY: CUNY-NYSIEB. [click here to access]

Chomsky, N. (1965). Aspects of the Theory of Syntax. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Cook, G. (2010) Translation in language teaching. Oxford: OUP.

García, O. (2009). Bilingual education in the 21st century: A global perspective. London: Wiley-Blackwell.

Phillipson, R. (1992). Linguistic imperialism. Oxford: OUP.

Williams, C. (1996). Secondary education: Teaching in the bilingual situation. In C. Williams, G. Lewis and C. Baker (eds.). The Language Policy: Taking Stock. Llangefni, UK: CAI.












Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s