Translingualism: An Alternative to Restrictive Monolingual Ideologies in Writing Instruction

Diversity and Inclusion, Higher Education, Multilingual Writers / Tuesday, October 27th, 2020

By Emily Bouza, Tim Cavnar, and Keli Tucker

Multilingual students should be celebrated for what they bring to academia. In this post, we hope to share what it looks like to support multilingualism in education. Emily’s section will cover different frameworks for understanding multilingual practice, Tim’s section will discuss language ideologies as a framework for thinking and talking about language and writing, and Keli’s section will propose a translingual disposition as a possible move toward a more inclusive writing center pedagogy.

Defining Code-switching, Code-meshing and Translanguaging in Writing Studies 

By Emily Bouza

Emily Bouza smiling widely

I get constant requests as a writing tutor to help someone sound more “like a native speaker” in their writing. Yet these same writers come in with writing that is beautifully not native sounding. The perfect metaphor that I would never have thought of, an expression of a feeling I never knew how to name, a blend of experiences that opens my eyes to places I have never been…our goals as writing tutors should always be to encourage the development of the writer’s voice and expression. But student writers are not wrong in having a desire to sound more native; they are often punished for grammar, phrases, and other genre constructs that mark them as somehow Other.

As a writing tutor who is there to help writers succeed by other people’s standards, I often struggle trying to balance supporting the voice of writers while also helping them work within the established standards of what is considered academic English. So what are we to do? I think the first step is to learn that there is another ideological perspective to language and try to use that as my framework for all of my interactions with writers as we work through the confines of academic writing together.


There have been several terms for different ideas of what it would look like to use more than one language in a school setting. Bilingual education has typically used practices that fall under the term “code-switching,” which is defined as “the alternate use of two or more languages in the same utterance.”1 Carvalho describes how historically code-switching was seen as a sign of disfluency and is often discouraged in formal education settings as an incorrect use of both languages. This is what we often see at the university where students are discouraged from using any words or even translated phrases from their non-academic English linguistic repertoires.

However, research has shown that code-switching is a frequent practice in bilingual settings and is actually “rule governed, serves a plethora of discourse functions, and functions as an important marker of group membership.”2 In K-12 bilingual education, code-switching is often the norm where students switch between languages by the day or the subject. We can often see examples of code-switching in the world around us and my most recent favorite example is the song Husavik from the Netflix movie Eurovision. Sigrit (acted by Rachel McAdams and sung by Molly Sandén) moves seamlessly between English and Icelandic to sing about her beautiful, bilingual hometown thus better representing her hometown in the two languages than she could in one. 


While code-switching is based on the idea of distinct switches between two or more languages, code-meshing “treats the languages as part of a single integrated system.”3 Code-meshing is the idea that each language is not distinct within the mind, but communication occurs across culturally defined distinct languages. While bilingual educators are often trained to teach using a code-switching method, what tends to occur is more of code-meshing. If you have ever had or heard a conversation between people who share more than one language you will likely have heard examples of code-meshing. I personally see this in a lot of songs such as I Know You Want Me (Calle Ocho) by Pitbull where he integrates English and Spanish together throughout the song without distinct switches. This song is meant for an audience with at least a rudimentary knowledge of both English and Spanish and the song sits between the distinct borders of either language, blending cultures and reaching a wider audience of fans in doing so. 


Yet Horner, NeCamp, and Donahue state that these features of practices such as code-switching and code-meshing still mark monolingualism as the norm and those who enact these practices as deviants.4 They are still falling into our trap of not celebrating the linguistic backgrounds of writers but noting them as markedly different. The idea of translingualism, as it is often called in composition studies or translanguaging as it is often called in linguistics, rejects the monolingual norm. 

García and Kleyn define translanguaging as “the deployment of a speaker’s full linguistic repertoire, which does not in any way correspond to the socially and apolitically defined boundaries of named languages.”5

The goals of translanguaging are to disrupt accepted hierarchies of language; to challenge the processes of minoritization, racialization, and coloniality; and to enable minoritized peoples to express their identity.6 Instead of marking certain students as multilingual and Other, translanguaging encourages everyone, whatever our language background, to draw from our entire linguistic, dialectal, multimodal communicative repertoires.

Bringing translanguaging into an education context thus creates the opportunity to mend the gap in well-being, education achievement, and attachment to culture for minoritized students, including indigenous peoples.7 Rather than just a description of linguistic practice, translanguaging is a new ideological perspective on language that shifts our values for language and writing pedagogy into a more socially just framework. 

A Sociolinguistic Perspective

By Tim Cavnar

Tim Cavnar smiling and dressed in a blue collar shirt

Like Emily, I’ve also experienced tension in my writing center instruction. On the one hand, I know that my job is to help students produce language that is “formal,” “grammatical,” and “appropriate.” On the other hand, my background as an English teacher who has lived in both China and the US, and now my work as a sociolinguist, drive me to push back against this goal. As both a student and a teacher, I’m familiar with the long uphill slog of language acquisition. 

This sensitivity has motivated me to research language ideologies, or cultural conceptions of language. Why do we stress language that is “formal,” “grammatical,” or “appropriate”—qualities that, it has been argued, have little bearing on the ideas or communicative potential of writing?8 Where do our positive evaluations of “academic” language come from, or our negative evaluations of “informal,” “colloquial,” or “ungrammatical” language? 

Language Ideologies

Irvine and Gal offer answers to these questions. Drawing on historical and anthropological data, they lay out a framework for how language ideologies come into being. Unconsciously seeking to reify stereotypes, an individual associates a group’s language with supposed inherent qualities of the group itself. Irvine and Gal point to numerous historical instances where this has taken place. For example, early European commentators on African languages like Xhosa that contain click consonants saw these sounds as demonstrating some kind of fundamental sub-human nature, likening them to the sounds of animals or of “inanimate objects, such as stones hitting one another.”9

Such assumptive views of non-European languages, once constructed, were then applied to derogate, dehumanize, and dismiss the intelligence of these languages’ speakers, judgments often enacted with explicitly racist overtones. Through the production of language ideologies, certain languages come to be associated with certain groups, communities, and entire countries, a process eventually leading to countries viewing their national language as metonymically standing for the nation itself.10 What’s more American than American English? From there, a language norm, taken to represent “Americanness,” “Britishness,” or some other set of inherent qualities, can be used to exclude anyone who doesn’t speak (or write!) that language perfectly.

How does all of this relate to academic English? For one thing, it should make us intensely sensitive to qualities ascribed to multilingual students’ writing. A common complaint by faculty is that students’ grammatical mistakes hinder the comprehensibility of their writing. We must ask, though, to what extent are such grammatical deviations actually interrupting meaning-making and -sharing, and, on the other hand, to what extent are such negative evaluations the product of inherent bias? When a multilingual writer’s language is criticized as “ungrammatical,” is it ungrammaticality that is really the issue? Or are our language ideologies––our unconscious biases as embodied in our opinions about language––the real motivation for what is, outwardly, a conversation about whether or not a student is communicating effectively?

What “Appropriate” Really Means

Much of the discourse around academic writing is framed in terms of “appropriateness,” but, as Flores and Rosa argue, these discourses of appropriateness spring out of raciolinguistic ideologies, which accept only white English as appropriate. They discuss how, although people in universities appear to seek to support users of diverse Englishes, their pedagogical strategies all seek to produce users of white English: “the solution to the problem posed by long-term English learners is squarely focused on molding them into white speaking subjects who have mastered the empirical linguistic practices deemed appropriate for a school context.”11

Identifying an example of this process, Marotta, who has also contributed to Another Word, based on her interviews of university custodial workers, argues that writing in university spaces is primarily a white practice, where only certain licensed individuals like professors are allowed to write. She shows how, through exchanges based on writing (e.g. through notes between custodial staff and professors in their offices) the English of the multilingual custodial staff is devalued, delegitimized, and restricted. According to Marotta, in this context, English is “a White property right.”12

This is, perhaps, where writing centers and composition studies are implicated most obviously into the conversation of language ideology, translingualism, and multilingualism. Writing centers, as key points of contact between multilingual students and discourses of academic English and “appropriateness,” have the potential to reify these harmful and exclusionary ideologies, or to resist them and create accepting, linguistically safe spaces for students of all linguistic backgrounds. As Keli will argue below, adopting a translingual disposition as a powerful way to resist harmful English ideologies, working towards linguistic inclusivity in the Writing Center and the University at large.

Toward A Translingual Disposition in our Writing Center Instruction

By Keli Tucker

Keli Tucker smiling directly at the viewer

Almost all of my pedagogical philosophies originate in one central point of concern: how I can most effectively work toward equity and justice. While I feel that talking about language with writers in the context of a writing center appointment can be a key moment for enacting these goals, I often find it difficult to be attentive to writers’ needs while also troubling the notion of correctness or discussing how the idea of a “native speaker” is problematic,13 let alone talking about how language ideologies are constructs that are bound up in racialized notions. Yet these conversations are important if we want to move toward a transformative writing center pedagogy, which I believe is one that should empower writers to use their languaging practices to disrupt and transgress.

Thus, we want to conclude by proposing the adoption of a translingual disposition to our writing center pedagogy. Taking as our starting point Horner et al.’s idea of a translingual approach, which “encourages reading with patience, respect for perceived differences within and across languages, and an attitude of deliberative inquiry,”14 we theorize this disposition as a stance of openness, enacted both as flexibility in our practices and transparency in our discourse with writers. As for me, I see a translingual disposition as an orientation from which to work toward both linguistic and racial justice through recognizing the validity of all languaging practices, and from which to attend to writers’ felt needs through engaging a relational ethic of care.

Linguistic and Racial Justice

Language is always already intrinsically tied to identity, which means that an approach to writing that privileges Standard English also “implicitly and explicitly…discounts the achievements, even the humanity, of those who come from cultures with writing traditions different from those of the West.”15 Further, a monolingual approach enacts linguistic racism, which occurs as a result of language ideologies that “conflate certain racialized bodies with linguistic deficiency unrelated to any objective linguistic practices…even when engaging in linguistic practices positioned as normative or innovative when produced by privileged white subjects.”16 Linguistic justice, the practice of recognizing and protecting the linguistic rights of users of minoritized languages,17 is only achieved by the inclusion and affirmation of minoritized languaging practices in all writing situations, even in academic or formal contexts in which practices like codemeshing have traditionally been viewed as inappropriate. A translingual disposition to writing center instruction is thus an important step toward both linguistic representation and an antiracist writing pedagogy.

Ethic of Care

Assimilationist language ideologies commonly lead to feelings of shame and non-belonging in language-minoritized writers, as well as anxiety about using English.18 Thus, a translingual disposition is also intrinsically tied to an ethic of care—that is, to a regard for others’ interests and well-being, and an abiding concern for others’ humanity.19 Relational caring in the writing center confers a responsibility to respond to writers’ felt needs, and accounting for the socio-emotional factors of multilingualism through a translingual disposition can aid us in building trust, extending solidarity to multilingual writers, and ensuring that our Writing Center spaces—whether physical or virtual—do not perpetuate the harmful effects experienced by writers who are told, explicitly or implicitly, that their languaging practices are inappropriate, unprofessional, or incorrect.

Translingualism and Inclusion

It is important to actively shift away from deficit discourses and assimilationist ideologies because the consequences of linguistic injustice persist far beyond one writing center appointment, or even one writer. They are reproduced across generations in language-minoritized communities, leading to later generations of writers feeling disconnected from their heritage languages, and from their culture and identity as a result.20 A translingual pedagogy is therefore also a culturally sustaining pedagogy that supports the intentions laid out in the Writing Center’s inclusivity statement:

We also work to upend systems of disadvantage as they materialize in the power-laden contexts of writing, reading, and literacy by affirming and supporting the unique intelligence each person brings to the Writing Center as they labor to develop their own voice. Our goals are inclusivity without exclusivity and acceptance without assimilation.

Fulfillment of these goals must involve re-thinking our investments, re-envisioning our practices, and re-shaping our discourse around language and languaging in Writing Center appointments. A translingual disposition is a more expansive orientation to writing instruction that can help us challenge monolingual ideologies and account for how these ideologies enact oppression. When we value writers’ languaging practices, we value writers.

In Part 2 of this piece, forthcoming this spring, we will discuss specific actionable practices for enacting a translingual disposition during Writing Center appointments, as well as some of the affordances and constraints of this stance.

The authors wish to express their thanks to Diego Román, Assistant Professor in Bilingual/Bicultural Education in the Curriculum and Instruction department at UW-Madison, whose class on Translanguaging, Power, and Education inspired this piece.

This photo by Soner Eker on Unsplash shows a series of signs directing the viewer to different establishments located in Kavala, Greece. A plant sits in a silver bucket marked "Flowers" below.

Emily Bouza has spent over seven years working in writing centers, first as an undergraduate tutor at Kent State University and then as the founding assistant director of the Writing Center at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor. Emily is a current PhD student in Composition and Rhetoric at UW-Madison and is one of the two graduate Assistant Directors of the Writing Fellows program. Her research interests include writing across the curriculum, writing center studies, and language ideologies.

Tim Cavnar received his BA in English at the University of Michigan, and then moved to China, where he lived for three years as an English teacher. Returning to the US, he moved to Madison, where he completed his MA in Applied English Linguistics and is now enrolled as a PhD student in Second Language Acquisition. His research focuses on how to best support bi/multilingual students learning academic writing, especially in writing centers.

Keli Tucker holds a BS in English from Drury University in her hometown of Springfield, Missouri, and an MA in English from DePaul University, where she began her writing center journey, which is coming up on six years, as a graduate assistant in the University Center for Writing-based Learning. She is a current PhD student in Composition and Rhetoric at UW-Madison, and has been an instructor in the Writing Center since spring of 2020. Her research interests include writing center studies, critical pedagogy, and linguistic and racial justice.

  1. Ana M. Carvalho, “Code-Switching: From Theoretical to Pedagogical Considerations,” in Spanish as a Heritage Language in the United States, edited by Sara M. Beaudrie and Marta Fairclough (Washington DC: Georgetown University Press, 2012), 139.  ↩︎
  2. Carvalho, “Code-Switching,” 139.  ↩︎
  3. Suresh Canagarajah, “Codemeshing in Academic Writing: Identifying Teachable Strategies of Translanguaging.” The Modern Language Journal 95, no. 3 (2011): 403. ↩︎
  4. Bruce Horner, Samantha NeCamp, and Christiane Donahue, “Toward a Multilingual Composition Scholarship: From English Only to a Translingual Norm.” College Composition and Communication 63, no. 2 (2011): 269–300. ↩︎
  5. Ofelia García and Tatyana Kleyn, “Translanguaging Theory in Education, ” in Translanguaging with Multilingual Students: Learning from Classroom Moments, edited by Ofelia García and Tatyana Kleyn (New York: Routledge, 2016), 14. ↩︎
  6. García and Kleyn, “Translanguaging Theory in Education,” 9–33. ↩︎
  7. Tiffany S. Lee and Teresa L. McCarty, “Bilingual-Multilingual Education of Indigenous Peoples.” In Handbook of Bilingual and Multilingual Education, by Wayne E. Wright, Sovicheth Boun, and Ofelia García, 409–27. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2015. ↩︎
  8. Jeff MacSwan, “Academic English as Standard Language Ideology: A Renewed Research Agenda for Asset-Based Language Education,” Language Teaching Research 24, no. 1 (2020): 28–36.  ↩︎
  9. Judith T. Irvine and Susan Gal, “Language Ideology and Linguistic Differentiation,” Regimes of Language: Ideologies, Polities, and Identities, ed. Paul V. Kroskrity (Santa Fe: School of American Research Press, 2000), 40. ↩︎
  10. James Milroy, “Language Ideologies and the Consequences of Standardization,” Journal of Sociolinguistics 5, no. 4 (2001): 530–55. ↩︎
  11. Nelson Flores and Jonathan Rosa, “Undoing Appropriateness: Raciolinguistic Ideologies and Language Diversity in Education,” Harvard Educational Review 85, no. 2 (2015): 157. ↩︎
  12. Calley Marotta, “Who Has the Right to Write? Custodian Writing and White Property in the University,” College English 81, no. 3 (2019): 163. ↩︎
  13. Suresh Canagarajah, “Clarifying the Relationship Between Translingual Practice and L2 Writing: Addressing Learner Identities,” Applied Linguistics Review 6, no. 4 (2015):  416. ↩︎
  14. Bruce Horner, et al., “Language Difference in Writing: Toward a Translingual Approach,” College English 67, no. 3 (2011): 304. ↩︎
  15. Raúl Sánchez, “Writing,” in Decolonizing Rhetoric and Composition Studies: New Latinx Keywords for Theory and Pedagogy, ed. Iris D. Ruiz and Raúl Sánchez (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), 78. ↩︎
  16. Flores and Rosa, “Undoing Appropriateness,” 150. ↩︎
  17. Javier Alcalde, “Linguistic Justice: An Interdisciplinary Overview of the Literature,” in Language Policy and Linguistic Justice: Economic, Philosophical, and Sociolinguistic Approaches, ed. Michele Gazzola et al. (Berlin: Springer, 2018), 70. ↩︎
  18. Sender Dovchin, “Introduction to Special Issue: Linguistic Racism,” International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism 23, no. 7 (2020): 3. ↩︎
  19. Nel Noddings, Caring: A Relational Approach to Ethics and Moral Education, 2nd edition. (Berkeley: U of California Press, 2013), 9. ↩︎
  20. Amelia Tseng, “‘Qué barbaridad, son latinos y deberían saber español primero’: Language Ideology, Agency, and Heritage Language Insecurity across Immigrant Generations,” Applied Linguistics amaa004 (2020): 19. ↩︎

2 Replies to “Translingualism: An Alternative to Restrictive Monolingual Ideologies in Writing Instruction”

  1. Thank you, Keli, Tim, and Emily, for sharing this amazing post that both explains translingual frameworks so well and makes a powerful case for how translanguaging can enact linguistic justice in the Writing Center! I really appreciated how you wove in your own observations as instructors. I eagerly await the spring follow-up post and am very excited to discuss how we can put this into practice. 🙂


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