The Translingual Approach – Agree but…

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I am trying to fully understand the translingual approach – specifically how it aligns with English for academic purposes (EAP) or the much needed skill of clear, concise written communication. The idea is great, but how do we go about it?

Horner, Lu, Royster, and Trimbur (2011) propose a translingual approach for dealing with student writing in academia.
Although I agree with most of the underpinnings behind the new approach, I am not so sure how they envision it. I agree with many of their ideas, but…


I agree that students’ right to use their language (English and otherwise) should be respected.  I also agree with the authors’ opposition to the monolingual “view that varieties of English other than those recognized as ‘standards’ are defective” (305). Varieties of English, they explain, include what monolinguals detect as non-standard English, such as working-class English, African American English or accented English. Boy do I agree.

I also agree that teachers need to be respectful of their students’ voice. This includes reading with patience and from the perspective of the student as writer. Hence, as these authors explain, language differences should not be seen “as a problem but as a resource” (305).

I like that they advocate for what is called the “English Plus” policy which calls for embracing the richness of people who are versed in more than one language and whose language mastery needs to “include the ability of users to revise the language that they must also continuously be learning” (307). I further agree with the proposal that students should be awarded academic credit when they work towards “adding English to their linguistics repertoire” (308). Oh, yeah… Developmental English and English for Academic Purposes, for example, should count towards graduation!


The end section includes “Implications for writing programs.” The authors offer various inspiring, philosophical tenets of what is needed to embrace the translingual approach, but fail to provide concrete examples. Although I agree that teachers “can’t assume a student who writes ‘spills out’ [for spells out] or ‘stepping stool’ (instead of stepping stone). . . is making mistakes” (310), the authors do not offer advice on how to correct these types of whatchamacallit (the first one is probably due to writing in accented speech, while the second one could be considered a form of pragmatic failure). Although I will not get into the differences between mistakes and errors at this time¹,  I question how much these types of misunderstandings can be negotiable as the authors propose.

What can teachers do?

Teachers could:

  • Incorporate writing tasks that cater to a variety of audiences, without using labels such as educated vs non-educated, literate vs illiterate, or standard vs non-standard. Instead, teachers could design writing tasks that challenge students to write with the audience in mind (e.g. e-mails to friends, e-mails to a grandparent, a twitter feed to their peers, an infographic, a speech at the Grammys, a valedictorian speech, an objective essay or a subjective essay). Hence, teachers and students alike can work towards abolishing dichotomies, while recognizing that registers and culture are to be valued and respected – not only in English but in all languages.
  • Include short warm-up activities focusing on grammar and idiomatic expressions. Better yet, allow students to share their own language use (written and oral). This can be an extremely enriching experience (believe me, I have done this).
  • Ask second language students to share idiomatic expressions in their first language (and the literal translation), which can provide opportunities for students sharing their own cultural renditions, teachers (or students who know) sharing the English equivalent, and well…lots of laughter sometimes.

What teaching strategies would you include? What about one for spelling whatchamacallit?

¹You may want to read about differences between mistakes and errors (e.g. see Corder, S.P (1975) “Error Analysis, Interlanguage and Second Language Acquisition”, Language Teaching & Linguistics, 8(4). Pp. 201-18)

Horner, B., Lu, M., Royster, J., & Trimbur, J. (2011). Language Difference in Writing: Toward a Translingual Approach. College English, 73(3), 303-321. Retrieved from

3 thoughts on “The Translingual Approach – Agree but…”

  1. Thanks for bringing up this growing realisation in ELT about translanguaging and teaching strategies to match. It seems to be in its infancy I guess, and needs more research like yours. (Canagarajah.S is a guru in this area, I would say).
    Thx for the references; I shall look them up!

    1. Hello Ranjani,
      Thanks for the tip! Canagarajah writes through a critical theory lens, which is where translingualism has its roots. He actually explores the topic at length. I especially admire how he advocates for all users of English. Now that I think of it – the authors in this article did not really mention Canagarajah – not that I recall. Perhaps they should have.

  2. Translingualism, if described one phrase might be well described as “same sound different meanings” because mostly words are being used by different languages but their meaning are totally different or opposite from each other.

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