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Teachers take care: tomorrow is translingual

Martin CathraWEB

Research showing the majority of EFL students plan to use their English alongside other languages in the future could have implications for teaching.

The majority of adult EFL students believe they will use English in close conjunction with other languages in their future lives and careers, a study conducted in the United Kingdom has found.

The exploratory study of ‘translingualism’ could have implications for the relevance of the native vs non-native speaker debate, and highlights the value of multilingual teachers to students.

Translingualism is the flexible use of elements from more than one language within a single context – for example, Chinese workers for a US company communicating with colleagues in Mandarin but writing reports in English. Equally, people sending text messages that mix more than one language are operating translingually.

A total of 116 adult EFL learners studying at a chain of private language schools in the UK were asked how they expected to use their English in the future, and answers were received from seventy people.

More than three quarters (76 per cent) of respondents believed they would be using English translingually in the future, while less than 20 per cent believed they would be using English predominantly in a monolingual context.

Participants in the sample, ranging from A2 to C1 levels, came from 24 countries, with Asian participants at the top of the list (52 per cent), followed by Europeans (38 per cent) and South Americans (10 per cent).

Learners were shown a chart of examples of three ways they might use their English and their native language in future.

These included two examples each of monolingual, partly translingual and highly translingual users. The predominant profile chosen by participants included people working in their home country for multinational employers with English language policies and practices.

A minority of adult learners identified themselves as likely to use English language monolingually in the future. These were made up of learners who were planning to continue their education in a monolingual UK context, before returning to their home country to work in a largely monolingual environment. The research also highlights increasingly dominant multilingual practices, especially within online and virtual communities.

Mr Anderson argues that ‘a translingual perspective enables us to move beyond the native-speaker vs non-native speaker dichotomy, and focus more on a teacher’s translingual competence and the need for the teacher to understand the learner’s languaculture.’

Mr Anderson added that norms for the assessment of students were ‘dictated’ by native-speaker monolingual practices that are ‘at odds’ with how many people used their multilingual resources in the real world.

While the study shows that adult learners see there will be a need to use English translingually in the future, it stresses that the data is based only on students’ own perceptions of their future language use.

The study was also limited by a number of other factors, such as whether participants fully understood the different examples of language use given.