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Say that again? Translanguaging in Chinese Universities

Several translanguaging processes are common in bilingual Chinese-English university classes, according to a recent study by Weihong Wang, China university of Geosciences, Wuhan, China and Xiao Lan Curdt-Christiansen,University of Bath, UK.

In 2001, to prepare Chinese students for an increasingly global job market, the Chinese government promoted English Medium Instruction in Chinese Universities. Over the next five years some caveats were introduced as it became clear that studying at degree level in English was very challenging for both students and lecturers.

Currently, around 5-10 percent of the contents of selected degree courses are offered in English – especially in subjects where much of the content is being drawn from English sources. Wang and Curdt-Christiansen chose one such degree programme for their study: Business Management.

They found that students and lecturers were routinely using translanguaging techniques to facilitate understanding of content and meaning, i.e. they were accessing and using both languages. These techniques fell into four camps.

  • Bilingual label quests: key concepts (e.g. variables, price level, unemployment) were often presented in English and then elicited in Chinese.
  • Cross-language recapping: chunks of content (not just key words or phrases) were taught in one language then again in the other.
  • Simultaneous code-mixing: speakers shuttled rapidly between both languages with parts of the overall meaning expressed in each language.
  • Dual-language substantiation: content was taught in English then Chinese examples and context was given in Chinese.

The authors suggest that this kind of flexible bilingualism is so natural and commonplace that it should be properly recognised, facilitated and studied, rather than focussing on an unrealistic ideal of monolingualism in the academic classroom.

Translanguaging may particularly facilitate understanding in subjects drawing on content originally written in English by helping to minimise content being lost in translation.


■ Wang, W. and Curdt- Christiansen, A. L. (2019) ‘Translanguaging in a Chinese– English bilingual education programme: a university-classroom ethnography.’ International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 22(3): 322-337.


Image courtesy of Library
Gill Ragsdale
Gill Ragsdale
Gill has a PhD in Evolutionary Psychology from Cambridge, and teaches Psychology with the Open University, but also holds an RSA-Cert TEFL. Gill has taught EFL in the UK, Turkey, Egypt and to the refugees in the Calais 'Jungle' in France. She currently teaches English to refugees in the UK.
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