In this article, I have tried to expose the difficulties of a multilingual classroom and my practice of translanguaging to address those problems to do fair to students’ native language as equally as the target language. The classroom is the microcosm of society, providing the authentic flavor of each society’s culture, lifestyle, and way of thinking. The students are gathered from diverse backgrounds. In the classroom teacher as a facilitator must respond to every student fairly and respectfully. The translanguaging techniques may help the teacher do justice to the diverse students because translanguaging supports the varied learner to choose the language they like for the highest level of performance that they can perform in the heterogeneous class.
Keywords: Translanguaging, Heterogeneous, Microcosm, Psychology
I have been working as a secondary-level English teacher since 2016. My school is one of the government schools, and it is situated in Golanjor -7 Khurkot Sindhuli. It’s name is Shree Jana Jyoti Secondary school, and it is one of the province model schools of sindhuli district. My school has two mediums of teaching and learning, English and Nepali, since 12 years ago. Because of the craze for the English language, my school’s pressure is very high, so each class has two sections. Section “A” is where students learn every subject except Nepali in English. In Section” B”, every subject except English is taught in Nepali. The catchment area of my school is large, and students come walking even from 4 to 5 miles far and also from Terai Region.
The linguistic background of section “B” students’ is a little bit poor. In my school, though there is no strict entrance exam for those students from outer school, they arbitrarily choose the section “B.” Most of the students are from minor ethnicity and Dalits in section “B” like Majhi, Waiba, Hayu, and Shrestha. The translanguaging technique is very effective in this section for the optimum levels of knowledge and language development because there is no mental pressure for the students to use only the target language in the classroom as they can use Nepali or their mother tongue, so they become more interactive. Similarly, in section “A, there is predominantly so-called higher ethnic groups like Chhetri, Brahmin, Devkota, Rai, Mandal etc., though the linguistic background of this section is a little bit good compared to section “B”. The translanguaging technique gives more freedom to share the highest knowledge levels and makes the classroom more engaging.
Practicing English in the EFL classroom, which is full of heterogeneous students, is very challenging because the student’s linguistic and cultural backgrounds are different. However, it directly and indirectly affects language learning for example, the students from the Madheshi community are more active in writing sessions than speaking because their first language and culture are different from the other students and teachers in the classroom. Hence, it is not easy for them to interact in the classroom. As an EFL teacher, I have to encourage my students to speak in target language as much as possible. However, most of my students are reluctant to talk because of a lack of sufficient vocabulary, problems in sentence formation, pronunciation etc. Some sample problems of the classroom are as presented as follows. At the beginning of the session, while I was encouraging my students to talk in the target language, one student stood up and said that” mam, I can’t talk in English, it is a very difficult subject. “He pronounced /talk/instead of /tak/, and sentences were also incomplete
Similarly, in most cases, while forming sentences, my students become confused in the order of words e.g., they create unusual sentences like (I never have understood her instead of, I have never understood her), (Rajan drives always to work, instead of Rajan always drives to work). They always become confused about in which position they should keep which words. The next thing is because of the cultural gap, students become so confused and ask funny questions which do not hve any sense in the classroom context; for example, while I was teaching my class ten students the chapter related to the international cultures they became surprised and confused by reading Some European country’s greeting culture and ask some silly types questions like “mam doesn’t American feel ashamed to kiss between opposite sex in the open place?” “Is it appropriate to hug the foreigners if I meet them in Thamel Kathmandu? etc.” Another last but not least exciting thing is that I Feel tired of running class to class to make my students understand the questions because the question comes only in the English language. It is challenging to them to understand the questions. In this article, I am trying to reveal the real problems of multilingual classrooms and my attempts to use translanguaging techniques to address those problems.
Translanguaging is a term used to describe the trend which supports the learner to choose the language that they like for the highest level of performance that they can perform. It motivates the learners to speak, write and translate in the language they feel comfortable to foster their learning. This concept entertains multilingualism in the EFL classroom. It helps to develop a positive attitude toward all the language skills that the learners have.
(Baker, 2011, p. 39) defined translanguaging as” the process of making meaning, shaping experiences, gaining understanding and knowledge through the use of two languages.” Similarly, (Hornberger & Link, 2012, p. 262) defined translanguaging as “the purposeful pedagogical alternation of language in spoken and written, receptive and productive mode. To be concluded, translanguaging is the process of allowing EFL learners to use any language that they like at any time. As an EFL teacher, while practicing the English language in the classroom, I have been facing the following problems.
Problems in Classroom Teaching
Psychology of Students towards Target Language
Most EFL students in public schools think English is a complicated language compared to their mother tongue. They cannot learn it, so they hesitate to interact in the classroom, switch to their mother tongue frequently while practicing the target language, and prefer to answer in their second language or mother tongue.
Problems Related to Sound
One of the significant challenges of the classroom is phonemic and phonological challenges. In the classroom, there is a lack of authentic input; in most cases, we depend on the textbook. We take textbooks as a curriculum rather than a helping book, and there is a trend to teach the subject to obtain marks rather than to learn it. So because of the lack of adequate input, students can’t pronounce most of the words correctly. Another problem is that they understand the sentences spoken by Nepalese speakers. However, it is challenging for them to understand the same sentences spoken by a native speaker. It means there is a lack of practice in pronunciation in the classroom.
On the other hand, the pronunciation of sounds in English can be challenging and confusing. The same letter can be pronounced differently in different situations. Some sounds may be silent in one instance but not another; for example, the letter “c” can be pronounced as /k/ in some words (e.g., “cat”) and as /cha/ in others (e.g., “chair”). The /k/ sound is silent in the word “knowledge”, but not in “keep.”
Linguistic and Cultural Diversity
For students whose linguistic and cultural background differs from that of the majority of students in the classroom, speaking in the classroom can be challenging. These students may not have a strong foundation in the second language and lack confidence, leading them to avoid speaking for fear of making mistakes. For example, in my classroom, students from the Terai region whose native language is Maithili and who use Nepali as a second language often remain silent, despite knowing the answers, due to their different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. During a dictation exercise, these students had difficulty understanding my pronunciation. They asked me to repeat the words and sentences multiple times. When I asked if they understood, one student, Devkant Mandal, told me that it was difficult to follow my speaking, but he could answer questions in written form. This highlights the gap between teaching and learning that can arise due to different linguistic and cultural backgrounds.
Questions are only in the target language
Due to the use of monolingual assessment systems, students face difficulties comprehending the questions in the target language, leading to an inability to express their knowledge accurately.
Efforts to Solve the Problems
To overcome the problems mentioned above, I have been using the following techniques and strategies in my classroom.
Create Positive Attitude
First, I adopt a positive approach by uplifting words to shift negative attitudes towards positivity. I often tell my students that English is easier than their native language and remind them that if they can fluently speak their native language, they can also learn English. I also acknowledge and appreciate their small accomplishments, encouraging them to answer questions in the language they feel comfortable with. This approach has proven effective, as it has motivated weaker students to become more engaged in their learning and freely express their ideas in both their native and target languages.
Encourage Students to Express Ideas in the language of Their Choice
In my 10th-grade class, I teach Health, and the medium of instruction is English. At the start of the session, I solely used English to impart knowledge. I encouraged students to use English in classroom interactions. However, this resulted in a lack of student participation and creativity, making the class dull and monotonous. Later, I realized that while it is crucial to have a high level of knowledge about Health, it is not necessary to learn it in English. So, I encouraged students to interact in the language they felt comfortable with. This change made the health class more interactive and engaging, as students were no longer burdened by language and could freely share their ideas in their preferred language.
Maximization of Authentic materials
The primary goal of language learning is to communicate effectively on relevant topics. Since 2021, the curriculum for grades 4, 7, and 9 have changed, focusing on social themes, such as religion, yoga, Health, dining etiquette, etc. As an English teacher, I aim to align with the curriculum by incorporating authentic materials related to these themes into my lessons. Using real-life materials makes the learning experience practical and exciting. It helps students learn the language based on their needs and the topics being taught. For example, when it comes to cultural topics that may not have exact translations in the target language, students are free to use both their mother tongue and the target language as needed.
Reduce Overcorrection and Interruption
In most cases, I refrain from correcting my students while they are speaking and try to minimize correction in their writing. I don’t mind if they switch to their native language to feel comfortable talking and practicing, even if it is challenging.
Translanguaging is a process that allows for flexibility in language use in the EFL classroom. As target language teachers, it is our responsibility to foster an appropriate environment for language practice. We should not prohibit using the native language in the name of learning English. Instead, we should embrace and appreciate the use of the mother tongue following the context and situation.
Baker, C. (2011). Foundation of bilingual education (2nd .ed) clevedon: Multilingual matter.
Hornberger, N. & Hand Link, H. (2012 ). Translanguaging and transnational literacies in multilingual classroom: A Biliteracy lens. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism.
About the author: Mrs. Mandira Basnet is an M. Ed. in English. She teaches English to secondary-level students at Shree Jana Jyoti Secondary School, Golanjor- 7, Khurkot, Sindhuli, Nepal.