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6 Translanguaging Activities to Foster Writing for Multilingual Learners of English

by Eric Gómez Burgos |

During my experience as a learner and teacher of English, I have observed how multilingual learners of English (MLEs) navigate through classroom tasks where English is required as the mandatory language, avoiding their home language or other learned languages. However, MLEs have a unitary linguistic repertoire to convey meaning and, from there, they can use (or select) varied linguistic resources. This is what translanguaging, as a pedagogical practice, proposes as  a way of leveraging the learners’ entire linguistic repertoire to enhance their learning and cognitive processes. In this sense, translanguaging can significantly enhance writing skills in MLEs. Here are some practical examples to use translanguaging in the classroom to foster student writing.

1. Multilingual Brainstorming

Encourage learners to brainstorm in their home or preferred languages to generate ideas for the writing task. This will help learners organize their ideas and activate vocabulary before starting the writing process.

Learners write a personal narrative about a memorable event. They brainstorm ideas in their home and preferred languages in groups, jotting down notes about the topic (e.g., "ir al cine" or "去电影院" (“going to the movies” in Spanish and Chinese, respectively). Then, these brainstormed ideas transition into English as they write their drafts.

2. Writing Prompts in Varied Languages

Offer writing prompts in both English and learners’ home and preferred languages to ensure they fully understand the task. This will make the task more accessible and allow learners to fully engage with the prompt before responding to the writing task accurately in English.

Learners describe their favorite holiday tradition. The teacher provides the prompt in both English and the students' home languages: “Describe tu tradición favorita” and “描述你最喜欢的节日传统习俗" ("Describe your favorite holiday tradition” in Spanish and Chinese, respectively). Then, learners continue to write in English.

3. Use of Multilingual Resources

Provide access to bilingual dictionaries, apps, and multilingual texts to help learners better understand the content and apply similar structures in their composition. Full texts in students’ home languages are also a great resource. This will give learners background information, details, and more ideas to complete the writing task effectively.

Learners analyze a poem in different languages — for instance, "Piececitos" by Gabriela Mistral (“Tiny Feet” in English), written in both English and Spanish. Then learners discuss the texts in class to see how ideas can be expressed differently across languages. During discussion, they use any language they choose so that they can best express their idea; the teacher encourages them to apply similar strategies in their composition.

4. Multilingual Writing Projects

Engage learners in writing projects that require producing content both in their home and preferred languages and English, such as bilingual storybooks, reports, or articles that develop a given topic.

Learners create a bilingual storybook about their own culture to share with their classmates. First, they write a story in both their home language and English, such as a tale about their own community. Later, they present that to the class or community.

5. Translanguaging in Peer Reviews

Form groups of learners who share the same home language for peer reviews to enable them to provide and understand feedback more successfully. This will help them discuss and constructively critique their work, which can lead to more confident feedback.

Learners review a classmate’s cultural heritage project. First, learners create a presentation or a poster about their cultural heritage. (Students include elements such as traditional recipes, historical facts, and personal stories, to name a few.) Then, learners are paired with classmates with the same home language to discuss their reviews, ensuring they fully understand each other's points. Later, students incorporate this feedback into their English revisions.

6. Language Diaries

Have learners keep diaries where they can write freely in any language to promote regular writing practice. This will help learners develop their creativity and writing skills.

Learners keep a daily journal. First, they write entries in any language. For instance, a Spanish-speaking student might write about their day in Spanish. As they improve their English writing skills, students can transition these entries into English. Meaning, if Spanish is the student’s preferred language, their journal may start 100% Spanish. Over time, it slowly develops into 75% Spanish/25% English…then 50% Spanish/50% English, and so on. In the end, students are writing their entries in 100% English.

These six examples demonstrate how translanguaging can be practically applied in the classroom to support MLEs in developing their writing skills while valuing and leveraging their linguistic backgrounds. By implementing these translanguaging strategies in the classroom, teachers not only support MLEs’ language proficiency but also value their linguistic and cultural backgrounds, creating a more inclusive and effective learning environment.

About the author

Eric Gómez Burgos

Eric Gómez Burgos is an assistant professor in the Faculty of Education at Universidad San Sebastián (Puerto Montt, Chile) and a Humphrey Fellow in Peabody College at Vanderbilt University (2023-2024). He has experience in teaching EFL to students ranging in age from early childhood to the university level. His work in teacher education focuses on preparing EFL teachers in the areas of teaching English to young learners and field experiences at school. His research interests include teaching methods and teacher education in EFL settings.

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