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By Karen Nemeth
A friend recently shared this article with me: Misunderstanding Translanguaging in Preschoolers from Good Men Project website. It discusses a study by Dr. Gabrijela Aleksić.
The author describes preschool children as having “the ability to move fluidly
between different languages.” This is widely observed in early childhood education and multilingual family life. But, that’s not ALL they are doing in the early years. While developing language, children also need to learn content, concepts, relationships, and skills. Truly effective early education for children who are multilingual must weave together supports for their languages and culture with supports to access and express learning in all of the domains. Language does not develop in isolation.
I think authors miss the mark when they talk about language separate from the other developmental needs. It doesn’t make sense to advise teachers to support a child’s languages without telling them how to use those supports in the context of teaching and learning. Any conversation about learning math, emotions, art, nature or any other domain will include elements of language. And language will be used to communicate, comprehend, and process content in these domains.
This article describes the three main principles of supported by translanguaging theory: “a positive stance towards students’ multilingualism; designing activities that create a safe translaguaging space; and teachers’ flexibility and support for students’ translanguaging.” We need to elevate recommendations for using translanguaging in early education with these questions:
- For what learning purpose?
How will teachers use their understanding of children’s languages and cultural contexts to help them learn and express themselves? I wonder why so many authors and researchers start by putting the questions to and burdens on teachers. I think it is much more effective and efficient to start with these additional questions, how about these questions:
- If we want teachers to know more about they why behind supporting multiple languages in the early years, why don’t we start by educating the early childhood education teacher educators?
- If we want teachers to implement effective strategies, why don’t we start by educating their supervisors and coaches about how to lead their educators in using translanguaging strategies effectively in all aspects of the learning day?
To learn more about the “how” to use these principles, I invite you to explore these resources:
Nemeth, K. (2021), Educating Young Children with Diverse Languages and Cultures, Routledge Publishing.
Nemeth, K. editor (2014), Young Dual Language Learners: A Guide for PreK – 3 Leaders, Brookes Publishing.
Reid, J.L., Kagan, S. L., and Scott-Little, C. (2018) New Understandings of Cultural Diversity and the Implications for Early Childhood Policy, Pedagogy, and Practice, Early Childhood Development and Care, 189 (6), 976-989.