Responding to critiques of translanguaging and plurilingual pedagogies (by April Passi)

I have a question for all you language teachers out there – have you tried experimenting with translanguaging pedagogy in your classroom? How about code-meshing or code-mixing? Maybe a plurilingual approach?




Okay. Back up a second. How many language teachers have actually HEARD of these concepts, let alone use them to inform their classroom practice?  Despite the current surge of attention towards these concepts in scholarly language research circles, there is some concern about whether or not translanguaging and plurilingualism translate well to the classroom. In a recent book chapter, Kubota (2020) outlines some of the key weaknesses of translanguaging and plurilingualism. One of her main concerns seems to be that translanguaging and plurilingual approaches can serve the interests of scholars and academics more than those of teachers and students. She points out the gap between theories of language that blur the boundaries between socially constructed languages and the reality of monolingual gatekeeping practices such as standardized testing, as well as standards for academic publishing to be in English. She also cautions that classroom practices that celebrate language diversity can remain too much on the surface and are open to being co-opted by liberal and neoliberal forms of multiculturalism. Kubota recommends adopting critical multiculturalism along with translanguaging pedagogy in order to develop what she calls “hyper-self-reflexivity”: “…teachers can be encouraged to examine privilege, marginalization, and discursive construction of our knowledge, and to foster critical openness to alternative views and ideas” (p. 317) and “learners can reflect on the multiple layers of plurilingual and translingual practices and their underlying ideologies” (p. 317).

I have the privilege of being both a language teacher and a PhD student, and I’ve been thinking a lot about how these pluri/multi approaches to language teaching could be a revolutionary way to free up student voices in the language classroom. However, Kubota’s work makes it clear that these approaches might play into the neoliberal agenda rather than challenging it. Before I start promoting translingual writing practices in my workplace, I want to be sure I have a good understanding of whether or not this approach actually serves the best interests of students. 

One way to enact such hyper-self-reflexivity in the translanguaging classroom can be through critical literacies. The critical literacies movement grew out of Freire’s work on critical consciousness and was “…groundbreaking as it pushed to the fore the importance and effects of critical pedagogy as a way of making visible and examining relations of power” (Vasquez, et. al., 2019, p. 301). Lau (2019, 2020) has shown through her work with language teachers that a critical literacies lens paired with translanguaging pedagogy can be a powerful way of raising students’ awareness of important social issues by examining issues in a variety of languages, as well as helping teachers reflect on their views. As Lau writes, “both [critical literacies] and translanguaging espouse an inherent critique of what language and literacy mean and what counts as legitimate knowledge and knowledge-construction processes, with an aim to enact border-crossing and boundary-breaking language and literacy practices to valorize marginalized identities and cultures” (2019, p. 77). Other scholars such as Keneman (2016) and Vasquez, Janks & Comber (2019) emphasize the potential of critical literacy practices to empower multilingual learners. Kubota (2020) writes that “[t]o contribute to actual social change, translanguaging and plurilingualism need to find a closer synergy with critical multiculturalism, by exploring deeper questions of linguistic and cultural inequalities in relation to colonialism, imperialism, capitalism, and associated language ideologies” (p. 318). Critical literacies may be just what translanguaging and plurilingualism need.

For those of you who have been experimenting with translanguaging/plurilingualism in the classroom, what do you think about pairing it with a critical literacies lens? What challenges do you face (or would you anticipate facing) when adopting such approaches to language teaching? Post your comments below!


Keneman, M. (2016). Empowering the foreign language learner through critical literacies development. Journal of Language and Literacy Education12(2), 84-99.

Kubota, R. (2020). Promoting and problematizing multi/plural approaches in language pedagogy. In S.M.C. Lau & S. Van Viegen (Eds.), Plurilingual Pedagogies: Creative and critical endeavors for equitable language (in) education (pp. 303-321). Springer.

Lau, S. M. C. (2019). Convergences and alignments between translanguaging and critical literacies work in bilingual classrooms. Translation and Translanguaging in Multilingual Contexts, 5(1), 67–85.

Lau, S. M. C. (2020). Translanguaging as transmediation: Embodied critical literacy engagements in a French-English bilingual classroom. Australian Journal of Applied Linguistics, 3(1), 42-59.

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