Translanguaging in Practice: Part C

Parents of elementary students experience translanguaging firsthand at Shekou International School in Shenzhen, China.

This is the third of a series of three blogs (although we may have to wrap it up with a fourth!) on the real world implementation of a mindset and practice. Paul and Patrice met as instructor and student at Moreland University. During the 2022-2023 school year, Patrice, fourth grade homeroom teacher and team lead at Shekou International School in Shenzhen, China, is putting her MEd thesis into practice.

Patrice Thompson planned and organized this event for parents of elementary students at Shekou International School, Shenzen, China.

I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to offer a parent information session in October. At first, I was under the impression that it would be online, due to China’s strict COVID restrictions. However, a week before the meeting I learned we would be able to meet in person with a cap of 50 people. Here is the English version of the flyer that was sent to parents. We had a Chinese version as well.

Parent invitation to learn about translanguaging, sent in both English and Chinese.

Within just a few days, the meeting was full. Honestly, I was surprised; I didn’t really expect there to be so much interest in one of our ParentEDU meetings about language, but I would soon realize just how wrong I was …

Changing from an online presentation to in-person engagement gave me the flexibility to bring a real translanguaging experience directly to parents, all of whom were bi- or multilingual. After talking with a few colleagues, I decided to create a full sample lesson, complete with an opener, a chance to “turn-and-talk,” a lesson about translanguaging, some stations at which parents could activate prior knowledge in one language to apply to another, an exit survey, and time for questions. Several of our rockstar colleagues offered their help, and before I knew it, I had an amazing, enthusiastic team ready to support the cause. With the coordinator of the French International Program, a Chinese language teacher, and a Student Academic Support teacher, we got ready to run the stations and field parent questions. 

During the session, this was the slide that addressed the elephant in the room:

A goal of translanguaging is to support the development of additional languages by leveraging the child’s entire linguistic repertoire.

Many parents laughed when they saw the title! It really resonated with them. More on that later.

The first station was about reading comprehension. I provided two stories, each in English, Chinese, and Korean. Parents were asked to read a story in one language, then answer reading comprehension questions in another. The questions, of course, were also provided in the same three languages. At this station, the parents experienced the fascinating challenge of processing information in one language before switching into another for output. Multilingual book talk questions were also provided for parents to use with their children. 

At the second station, parents were asked to watch and follow along with a 2-minute video on how to make an origami butterfly. They were then provided with a bank of words they could use to try to describe the process in English, which turned out to be quite difficult. The hands-on experience was fun, even if the butterflies didn’t come out quite like the example. 

And at the third station, parents encountered another manner in which to intentionally use multiple languages. In this lesson from the science curriculum, parents worked in small groups to match English vocabulary words about photosynthesis to the right places on a diagram hung on the wall. They were asked to discuss the words and the matches they were making in their native language. They were then asked to present the process to each other in English.

After gathering everybody back as a large group, I asked the parents to fill out a survey for feedback. The results were positive, with an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

  • “It’s a very impressive presentation. I think I will be able to help my kid better at home. Knowing what is translanguage, I do see the value in this.”
  • “我覺得非常有用,而且跟老師溝通的過程中,了解更多幫孩子的方法,甚至是孩子在課堂的狀態,能更信任學校” – I think it is very useful, and in the process of communicating with teachers, I can learn more ways to help children, even the state of children in the classroom, and I can trust the school more.
  • “这次的非常棒,是高质量的parentEDU,受益良多” – This time is very good, it is a high-quality parent EDU, and it is very beneficial.

The session ended with questions and answers. After the hands-on experience at the three stations, the now experienced translanguagers were eager to know more about how to navigate their childrens’ language abilities at home. 

What fascinating questions we received:

  • “Should I push my child to tell me about her experience at school in Italian, even though school is in English and she wants to tell me about it in English?” 
  • “At home, we mix French and Arabic and I have noticed that my daughter has started doing that with her brother. Should I ask her not to?” 
  • “We speak several languages at home. My child is not particularly excellent in any of them. Should we just speak one so that he learns it very well?”
  • “If my kid doesn’t want to speak Chinese with me because it’s easier for her to speak English, what should I do?”

These are just a few of the thoughtful questions parents asked, and there may not be a right or wrong answer outside of “do what’s best for your family,” “talk with your child about why languages are good for their brain,” and of course, “don’t worry too much, children are amazing and they will figure it out!” 

I couldn’t help but think about how the comments of these parents are so representative of the world we are moving into. With the rise of international schools around the world, and an increasingly global economy, we are seeing so many multilingual and multicultural children who are going to grow up and be a significant chunk of the working population. We really have an obligation to do school right. Language inclusion is one area that we need to figure out. It’s a core part of making sure that we raise our children with a model and sense of compassion and mutual respect.

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