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Using Students Home Language as a Resources to Learn a New One

By Leticia Daza, SLL MS Teacher Asociación Escuelas Lincoln – Buenos Aires Argentina @DazaLeticia

This past October, I had the opportunity to attend an excellent workshop at the Academia Cotopaxi in Quito. The workshop was “Academic Success in English: Understanding Language Acquisition and Valuing Bilingualism” by David & Yvonne Freeman & Ann Ebe. They talked about several topics including ways to support students’ first languages, even when we don’t speak those languages, to help them learn a new one.

In my particular case in my classroom, I constantly work with students for whom Spanish is a second or additional language; some of them don’t even have English as a mother tongue. Thus, I was questioning myself constantly about how I could make use of my students’ linguistic assets when I myself am unaware of their home language and how to make teaching Spanish a positive experience?  Finally, I found the answer to this question and it is “translanguaging.”

According to Garcia and Wei (2014), “ Translanguaging differs from the notion of code-switching in that it refers not simply to a shift or a shuttle between two languages, but to the speakers’ construction and use of original and complex interrelated discursive practices that cannot be easily assigned to one or another traditional definition of language, but that make up the speakers’ complete language repertoire.”

Therefore, I decided to explore translanguaging strategies with my students.  The following is my experience.

With my 7th Grade SLL class, we started a lesson about Culture Diversity, and decided to do a research project about their own countries.  They would share their different cultures with the class by talking about important facts, traditions and cultures. We first started with some important data to be covered, such as: Flag, Capital, President, etc. I modeled a presentation and told them to start their research in their home language by giving them the outlines, which were in English, Japanese, Hebrew, and Dutch.  Then I showed them some sentence starters in Spanish to cover that information and to support the transfer between languages. We also created a Multilingual Word Wall Bank to define the meaning of some words.  I noticed that by using their first language they were able to connect rapidly with the research project in a very powerful manner, and they were very motivated and engaged. Likewise, they were grouped based on their first language (when possible) and levels of Spanish proficiency. It was amazing how they started seeking answers through one another, and how they helped each other.  Also, it built stronger self-confidence with the new language acquisition, and they felt empowered and valued.

Finally, I asked my students about how they felt doing this research project, and they all said that it was very important for them to use their first language as a mechanism to learn Spanish. I can say that translanguaging was a meaningful experience for all of us, where my students developed understanding and knowledge in two or more languages, independence and specially collaboration.

The pictures below were taken during the research project.


References García, O., & Wei, L. (2014). Translanguaging: Language, bilingualism and education. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.


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