Translanguaging as a Resource for Academic Writing

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  Contributor: Ye Won Joo | Reviewer:  Ann Choe | Date: 2021-03-26


This study investigated how moving fluidly between first and second languages can help second language writers improve their writing performance, using translanguaging techniques in first-year college English composition classes. The rationale behind conducting such a study lies in the fact that writing involves more than the act of writing itself; instead, it involves different backgrounds of second language writers, including their first language, culture, and belief systems. Also, writing in a second language is different in nature, which cannot be seen the same as first language writing because second language acquisition is in progress. In this article, the authors wanted to expand the research to a respectively unexplored region of South Africa with students whose first language is Sesotho (a Southern Bantu language). The focus was to examine the influence of Sesotho and English writing conventions over each other and the degree to which students relied on sociocultural strategies to co-construct knowledge using translanguaging techniques.


Eight first-year students between the ages of 18 to 30 enrolled in one of the researchers’ Curriculum Design Module class at an urban university in South Africa were recruited. The participants were asked to write two untimed descriptive essays, one in Sesotho (first language) and the other in English (second language), for which they were assigned a different topic for each language. The reason behind doing so was to see how second language writers position themselves in the writing context, drawing on their linguistic and cultural resources. Then, based on the writing samples, the researchers designed and conducted focus group interviews and analyzed the data from a sociocultural perspective, which considers writing as a way to build one’s identity within the cultural context.


The researchers found a mismatch between the two languages and cultures in terms of writing conventions (i.e., thesis statement placement and logical connectors) and the first language’s cultural influences over the second language writing, which the participants considered as positive. Based on these findings, researchers argued that second language writers benefit from using translingual practices, which refer to the flexible and smooth use of all of their linguistic backgrounds, including first and second languages by moving back and forth between the two languages as necessary when writing in a second language. Such practices help second language writers raise awareness of the differences between the two languages and their writing conventions, thus improving their ability to write in a second language.

Practical Implications/Significance

The effectiveness and usefulness of translanguaging between first and second language in a college English composition class have been affirmed to be empowering second language writers. Therefore, language teachers need to reconsider the way they see second language writers’ errors; they may be using their first language and its culture’s writing convention as a resource rather than making a common mistake.

Original Text:  Motlhaka, H. A., & Makalela, L. (2016). Translanguaging in an academic writing class: Implications for a dialogic pedagogy. Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies, 34(3), 251–260. 

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