Language Education Policy Studies
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STRATEGY: Translanguaging in a Multilingual Classroom Environment

See Part One: The Rationale of MEMES: MAKING EMPATHETIC MULTILINGUAL ENVIRONMENTS IN SCHOOLS for displaced, refugee, (im)migrant students, to understand what is behind the strategies on this page.

We want to implement plurilingual pedagogy. Ideally the knowledge and experiences of the displaced children can enrich the lives of those who share their classrooms, and teach the members of the new society. Plurilingualism emphasizes the interaction between languages and abilities in each that a person draws on to make meaning—his or her linguistic repertoire. This view takes into account that a person uses the resources they have between two more languages to make meaning.

Strategies related to intercultural sensitivity help teachers with complexity. However, I wish to open real spaces for dialogue that will shift the thinking of future generations about these issues of multilingualism[1]. I want to hear the students’ stories in schools in their languages. The most open-minded, sensitive, and empathetic teacher still faces curricular restraints, teaching to the test. In terms of sharing stories, culture, and home experiences, no students benefit due to curricular restraints and Monolingual schooling.

García, Johnson and Seltzer (forthcoming) identify three strands of a translanguaging pedagogy –– 1) the teacher’s stance, 2) the instructional and assessment design, 3) the shifts. The teacher’s stance is the most important. He or she must be a co-learner; learning from the students; creating the spaces. This means that teachers must be aware of and value multilingualism, plurilingualism, multiliteracies. The design of lessons and shifts in lesson design is where the task becomes critical. The teacher needs to be purposeful and have translingual objectives. The goals of plurilingual practices must be integral to the lessons. The teacher needs multilingual material. Many websites and translation apps are available, and students can involve their families and find materials. Depending on the language, there may be many or few; but resources can be created.

Teachers who want to use translanguaging strategies must be vigilant during lessons and observe the students and deviate when necessary to make the lesson meaningful. Two practical strategies include the following:

1. Students can make a language portfolio (p. 23), even the monolingual students; who thus recognize their monolingualism and learn from their classmates. 

2. Students list the different languages and the degree of competency of each, with descriptions.

Garcia & Sylvan (2011) describe international high schools in the U.S. that a dynamic plurilingual model. A majority of the students were poor, and had lost parents in violent conflicts before moving to the U.S. A main principle in the organization and relationships in the classroom is the singularity of each student and his/her active use of language, but plurality of the classroom—which may have numerous languages with a continuum of competence in the other languages. The authors also stress that the students have abilities, experience and knowledge in the other languages that must be built upon. A third principle is to build on students’ strengths, and consider language as central to culture and individuals.

Teachers using these strategies must learn to be flexible in their language practices, and classrooms are learner-centered and may be noisy. Projects begin with shared oral experience and building background knowledge as a foundation to access higher level information. Students collaborate on projects and use the language resources each brings, thus multiple languages are heard. The teachers given project directions and rubrics and students figure out how to complete them; often giving oral presentations, practiced in their own language. The teachers mingle with the groups of students giving help. Resources and posters are on the wall and may contain images and words.


[1] Here I use multi instead of pluri because I refer to society, people, policies.

Two websites:

Some videos:

What is translanguage, really? 1:57 (Wendy Burr)


Prof. Li Wei Translanguaging as a Theory of Language (1 hour 30 min)


by Wendy Smith: Translanguage (28 min)


Cuny has a second series. Session 5 (embedded below) has classroom examples: 5th grade Translanguaging examples

This video shows actual teacher planning and classroom examples. It is from the CUNY-NYSIEB Online Series 2 Presentations for Educators of Emergent Bilinguals with Kathryn Carpenter, CUNY-NYSIEB Support team Introduction to “Translanguaging in Curriculum and Instruction: A CUNY-NYSIEB Guide for Educators” by Sarah Hesson, Kate Seltzer, and Heather H. Woodley. Session 5: Classroom Examples - with Kathryn Carpenter, CUNY-NYSIEB Support team.


Garcia, O. & Nelson, F. (2012). Literacy in Multilingual Classrooms. The Encylopedia of Applied Linguistics.


Garcia, O. & Sylvan, C. (2011). Pedagogies and Practices in Multilingual Classrooms: Singularities and Pluralities. Modern Language Journal.


Garcia, O. (2011). Educating New York’s bilingual children: Constructing a future from the past. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism.


Garcia, O., Flores, N. & Chu, H. (2011). Extending Bilingualism in U.S. Secondary Education: New Variations. International Multilingual Research Journal.


Gorter, D. & Cenoz, J. (2017). Language education policy and multilingual assessment. Language and Education, 31(3), 231-248.

DOI: 10.1080/09500782.2016.1261892

Gorter, D. & Cenoz, J. (2015). Translanguaging and linguistic landscapes, Linguistic Landscape, 1, 1, 54-74. DOI: 10.1075/ll.1.1/2.04gor


Leonard, R. L., & Nowacek, R. (2016). Transfer and translingualism. College English78(3), 258.


Leonet, O., Cenoze, J. & Gorter, D. (2017). Challenging Minority Language Isolation: Translanguaging in a Trilingual School in the Basque Country. Journal of Language Identity & Education, 16(4), 216-227.


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This information was originally published on the website of the International Network for Language Education Policy Studies ( as

Harrison, K. M. (2017). Making Empathetic Multilingual Environments in Schools: the Strategies of Translanguaging in a Plurilingual Environment. In F. V. Tochon (Ed.), Language Education Policy Studies (online). Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin—Madison. Retrieved from: (access date). 
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