Academic journal article Composition Studies

Translational Learning: Surfacing Multilingual Repertoires

Academic journal article Composition Studies

Translational Learning: Surfacing Multilingual Repertoires

Article excerpt

"Well I think, you have an idea that it would be hard to actually translate the same words from English, like if I'm describing oppression, I really don't know how to say that in Spanish, so I would actually use another word, like describe it in another way like 'oh somebody being forced to do something in a unjust way'. So I would say that in Spanish but I would use that instead of the actual word. So it would be a harder translation. You can't say the same things that you put on your paper in English to your parents in Spanish cause they will probably not understand it and it won't really translate the same way."

-Mickey (2015)

"It just kind of makes it easier because I think of it in a kind of different perspective. If, speaking in Spanish it's like we'll use - something in Spanish, I guess like I live in a Spanish household so my mom, my grandmother, my father all speak Spanish, so they would use something that you would usually see in your household like what your parents do that could always relate to something in math, science, or any of the classes. And then explaining that it's like 'oh ok now I get it'. So I guess it wouldn't really be Spanish itself but like things that a normal Spanish family would do, I guess."

-Bernice (2015)

These reflections on language and learning, taken from interviews for a larger study of my former students1 as they prepared to graduate from high school in the Bronx, illustrate some of the problems and possibilities facing multilingual students. How to go home and talk in one language about learning done in another? How to bring knowledge from other languages and contexts to bear on academic work in English? And-most importantly, as I will argue-how to draw on this process of translating back and forth to develop rich understandings across contexts?

Navigation between languages across contexts offers an interesting dialogue with the ongoing development of theories of translingualism, a framework that often questions the validity of thinking about languages as discrete entities as these students might tend to. As articulated by Bruce Horner, Min-Zhan Lu, Jacqueline Jones Royster, and John Trimbur, the translingual paradigm recognizes difference not as a problem but as an innate reality of language. Instead of taxonomizing these differences, Horner and co-authors, as well as other theorists of translingual dispositions (Lee and Jenks 319-24) or orientations (Canagarajah, "Negotiating" 40-41), ask why and how an individual uses language and to what effects in what contexts. Indeed, researchers argue that since "languages and language practices not only differ but fluctuate and interact, pursuit of mastery of any single identified set of such practices is inappropriate insofar as it leads language learners to a false sense of the stability of such practices and the finite character of language learning" (Horner et al. 307). From a translingual view, then, both interviewees quoted above are offering interesting reflections on their languaging processes, though theorists might ultimately see these discussions as problematic because of their emphasis on difficulty and views that languages function as fixed markers of different contexts.

However, Mickey and Bernice's comments reflect their experiences moving between contexts that they perceive as more or less monolingual, even as they themselves are engaging with the situations in complex and dynamic ways. Mickey presents his translations in terms of the problem of what to do with knowledge once it is acquired, particularly if it must be modified in order to be useful or communicable. For him, language difference presents a problem, one that is productive insofar as it encourages him to develop awareness of the affordances of resources from across his repertoire. Similarly, Bernice focuses on the ways that her translations illuminate the interaction between academic concepts and correlated understandings in the home. …

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