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  • Language Acquisition
Linguistic Symphony: Navigating Education with Translanguaging Brilliance

By Jessie Doster, English Language Acquisition Teacher at SCIS Pudong 

An essential aspect of an SCIS education is becoming a confident speaker of multiple languages. As a language acquisition educator, it is a rewarding and challenging task to support our language learners as they navigate the rigorous academic subjects in English while also continuing to maintain and develop their home language. That’s where the concept of translanguaging comes in!  

Translanguaging is defined simply as “the use of different languages together” (ealjournal.org). Within the classroom, this concept can take many forms: students creating bilingual word banks for a humanities unit, a science teacher providing a research article in multiple languages. Translanguaging allows students to use their home language to strengthen their learning and understanding of their target language.   

Translanguaging has many benefits. When students use their home language to grasp new concepts, they can improve their comprehension of that subject. Simultaneously, motivation is increased. The language demands of a text appear less daunting when the student feels confident in their understanding of the concept itself. Joel Wilson, Head of the Humanities Department at SCIS Pudong, agrees: “When I allow students to begin their research in their native language, it gives kids a place to start instead of being overwhelmed by the process. They can begin the process of investigation with confidence.” 

Students also develop effective code-switching skills, or the ability to switch between languages effectively. “Where a child has lived an experience in one language, and has technical vocabulary from that experience, code-switching allows them to continue communicating about that experience in any environment,” Robert Staples, MYP Coordinator at SCIS Pudong, noted. Code-switching is an essential asset in any multilingual environment, from university to the workplace.  

But, as with many things in life, there is always too much of a good thing. Language fluency requires constant exposure and interaction, and an overreliance on translanguaging strategies can impact both of these. Students can become too reliant on their home language, missing opportunities to see and use academic vocabulary in context. As students grapple with the demands of the IB diploma, writing complexity is an essential skill that requires intentional and consistent growth, and reducing exposure to complexity in language can negatively impact that development.   

So, how do students find a balance? Well, it starts with the kids! Students first need to understand that language develops primarily through interaction and immersion, and need to be empowered to make decisions that promote that development in their academic journey at SCIS. Teachers provide the language tools here, along with lots of enthusiastic cheerleading.  

Outside of class, SCIS offers an abundance of social and physical after-school activities that provide students with rich opportunities to use conversational English. Upper School Principal at SCIS Pudong, Ken Kitchens adds, “Students need English for academic purposes, but they also need English for ‘real life’ as well. With 44 nationalities and English as the lingua franca, SCIS fulfills both needs.”  

The final puzzle piece happens at home! Language development is like a bicycle: both tires need to be inflated to move forward. Parents and caregivers can continue to develop and support student's home language by providing students with opportunities to read, write, and speak about complex topics in their home language. At the same time, parents can encourage their kids to participate in English immersion social and athletic activities, engage together in English text and media, and even have their kids teach you a lesson in English! Xiating Fang adds a unique perspective as both a mother of two successful SCIS students and as the SCIS Pudong Mandarin Coordinator, “Parents’ willingness to encourage input and output of English will also motivate students to use the school language both inside and outside school.”  

When we empower students to take on the arduous task of an SCIS IB education using their toolbox of language strengths, not only do we develop critical reading and writing skills across languages, but we create confident and empowered risk-takers ready to take their education beyond the walls of the classroom! 

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