What Is Translanguaging and Applications in Multicultural Businesses

Article in partnership with Day Translations.

After reading an interesting article on translanguaging (source: EducationWeek) I realised this topic deserves further exploring, particularly with regards to its applications in business and in multicultural organisations that employ international staff and have a global audience.

What Is Translanguaging?

We can define translanguaging as the way bilingual or multilingual people use the linguistic resources at their disposal to communicate and take in what is being communicated in their interactions.

Translanguaging is being increasingly used in the classroom to promote inclusivity and to make teaching more effective (source: IES/ Institute of Education Sciences).

An example can be that a teacher asks a question in one language and a pupil answers in a different language, and using props such as a drawing to explain the answer in a way that is intelligible and understandable to the rest of the class and the teacher.

In the United States translanguaging has been tested as a teaching tool for learners of the English language for a while; so far there is enough evidence of its effectiveness that has been collated over a number of years. Not only that, but American Sign Language is also being assessed as one of the languages to use in a more inclusive way.

The initial step in translanguaging in the classroom is to assess how many languages are being spoken. Identifying how many languages are present is a crucial element of the process, as each language is then fully acknowledged to design the teaching curriculum, making it more dynamic than a traditional one. There is an element of fluidity in translanguaging as students move freely from one language to another without being told to stick entirely to English.

While, for the sake of teaching, English is the chosen language, the interactions with the students are more fluid to include different idioms. Work is being carried out to accept new ways of sitting for tests and assessments to prove English language proficiency by integrating translanguaging as an acceptable tool. The key here is that it wouldn’t be an exam fail if the student answers mixing English and another language if there is a clear demonstration that the concept being assessed has been comprehended fully.

To make a parallel with the gardening world, the teacher is like a gardener who is tending both native and non-native plant species to create a cohesive landscape so that not only each plant can grow but it can thrive.

Using translanguaging in the classroom encourages cooperation among students in their efforts to translate from their native tongue into English.

Applications of Translanguaging in the Business World

This last point about collaboration brings us immediately to its potential use in business. If we think about the past few years when people have been choosing to be remote workers or being told to work from home, as well as the fact that some workers may live in a different country to the head office or ther client if self-employed, then collaboration becomes a strategic way to produce results across teams.

While it is clear that English is still the most commonly used language for international teams across multinational companies, there is an opportunity to integrate terms used in various local areas that may have richer, more nuanced meanings and that can add more layers to plain English words.

The collaboration element can include working on new product ideas looking at how the same brand name would sound like and what it would mean in different languages. This is a key aspect of localisation, a marketing strategy that helps to adapt a product or service in a different country taking into account all aspects of that country’s cultural references. This marketing approach also addresses concerns from a consumer perspective before they emerge, preventing risky image problems and potentially avoiding brand damage altogether.

Probably the best application of translanguaging is in problem-solving: team members from different countries can discuss their own experiences and share how the same issue can be resolved using novel approaches. There is a chance that what is being perceived as a challenge in one country is seen as a small obstacle that is easy to deal with. For example, countries in Norther Europe pioneered mobile payments as early adopters to pay for parking, while the rest of the world scrambled to find enough coins to pay for their parking meter. One person’s inconvenience can be the spark to another person’s idea that provides a solution.