Bilingual Education Terms of Endearment (Part 1)

Bilingual Education Terms of Endearment (Part 1)

I never run dry of terms of endearment to express my affection for bilingual education, but those new to learning about bilingual education or simply trying to keep up with the latest research, may wish there was an academic “term limit”.  The purpose, then, of this post is to begin (thus Part 1) to provide working and accessible definitions for various complex terms associated with bilingual education.  These terms have all been prominently featured in recent academic journal articles by Otheguy, García, & Reid 2015; Przymus, 2016; Ruiz, 2010; and Valdés 2015 (full citations following the post).

1.  Translanguaging: Over the past decade, research in bilingualism/plurilingualism has shifted to viewing language as a verb-something people do, not as a thing that people have.  This shift in thinking has an important impact on how we view the linguistic practices of bilinguals.  When a monolingual languages (v) or communicates, she do so by drawing on the features of one socially named and recognized language (n), such as English.  When a bilingual languages (v), she has the ability to draw on features of more than one socially constructed language (n), such as English & Spanish, and thus she is active in translanguaging, or the dynamic use of her full linguistic repertoire.  The two socially recognized languages (n) of this bilingual, exists only to those who hear her.  Inside her head, is a collection, specific to this individual based on her life experiences, of linguistic features (not belonging to named language) that make up her linguistic repertoire and ability.

2. The Curricularizing of languages: For this term, we have to return to thinking about languages as things and how they are taught and learned/not-learned in schools.  The curricularization of languages refers to the direct teaching of any language at school as an academic subject, in of itself (e.g. ESL classes, Spanish as a foreign language, etc.).  When language is curricularized, its elements are “ordered and sequenced, practiced and studied, learned and tested in artificial contexts within which learners of the target language outnumber proficient speakers (Valdés, 2015, p. 262; emphasis mine).  This process does not mirror the natural process of learning language as part of meaningful socialization through the language, and becomes problematic for various reasons: a) particular dialects and varieties must be chosen and will undoubtedly not represent the lived experiences of all learners; b) contrived orders of features, structures, skills, tasks to be learned, have to be decided on and rarely are these orders/features meaningful for every student.  When curricularized, languages become like any other subject.  The opposite of curricularizing languages is using languages as the medium for learning content, instead of the languages as the sole content to be learned.  Learning languages in this manner, such as learning science in Spanish-as the medium of instruction, is a much more natural and effective approach for learning another language.  Here is an article that details an American Government class taught in both Spanish and English.  The student perceptions give proof of the benefits of learning languages through content:

3. Code-switching: The actual name of this term makes us think of switching back and forth between different codes or languages.  Although in practice, this could describe a translanguaging process, it differs in theory and understanding of really what is meant by language (v)? or (n)?.  If we believe that language is a verb, something we do, than we don’t think about having two or more different codes, we simply think about being able to access diverse linguistic features to communicate.  If we think of language as a noun, something individuals have, than we think about where those “things” must be stored in our brains and how when we use two or more of those “things” within the same conversation (maybe even the same sentence), we must be “switching” back and forth between those codes.  However you view and call this process, I must stress that it is not only OK, but it actually demonstrates an advanced linguistic ability when an individual is able to do it.  For example, in the sentence “Me voy al mall to buy a gift for mi hermano”, no syntactic rules are violated and this simply is just evidence that this speaker can draw (correctly) upon features of multiple socially named and recognized languages to communicate.  The continued use of the term code-switching, however, could lead to the perpetuation of the idea that individuals have languages (n), which could perpetuate the ideologies that individuals are either good or bad at certain languages, which leads often to students (typically linguistically and culturally diverse students) being positioned with negative identities  at schools.  The opposite of this deficit framing of students would be recognizing that these students can translanguage (v) and how great of a resource it is for them and for the school overall.

This ends part one of bilingual terms of endearment, as I’m sure I’ve given y’all a lot to chew on.  More to come, soon, with part two.


Otheguy, R., García, O., & Reid, W. (2015). Clarifying translanguaging and deconstructing named languages: A perspective from linguistics. Applied Linguistics Review, 6(3), 281-307.
Przymus, S. D. (2016). Challenging the monolingual paradigm in secondary dual-language instruction: Reducing language-as-problem with the 2–1-L2 model. Bilingual Research Journal, 39(3-4), 279-295.
Ruiz, R. (2010). English language planning and transethnification in the USA (Vol. 16, No. 3, pp. 96-112). Télescope.
Valdés, G. (2015). Latin@ s and the intergenerational continuity of Spanish: The challenges of curricularizing language. International Multilingual Research Journal, 9(4), 253-273.