Translanguaging Practices in Early Childhood Classrooms From an Intercultural Perspective

Translanguaging Practices in Early Childhood Classrooms From an Intercultural Perspective

Éva Csillik (New York City Department of Education, USA) and Irina Golubeva (University of Maryland Baltimore County, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2503-6.ch002
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The term ‘translanguaging' not only has appeared in the field of Applied Linguistics, but also it entered in the field of Multilingual/Multicultural Education in early childhood classrooms. Translanguaging is mostly seen as an opportunity to build on emergent bilingual speakers' full language repertoires in order to scaffold language learning; however, it also provides an opportunity for young learners to gain cross-cultural knowledge. The authors observed translanguaging practices during play time in the AraNY János Hungarian Kindergarten and School in New York City (USA) to understand how different languages and cultures presented in the early childhood classes might contribute to shaping an anti-biased mindset towards social and cultural diversity. The overarching aim of this study was to reveal some of the translanguaging practices both students and teachers used in a diverse ethnic community of Hungarian descendants living in New York City.
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Language not only expresses and embodies, but also symbolizes cultural reality (Kramsch 1998). Through language people get to know one another, such as, their different attitudes, behaviours, values, beliefs, worldviews, customs, traditions, lifestyles, art, music, achievements, etc. (Byram, Gribkova, & Starkey, 2002). Due to the political and socio-economic changes of our globalized world, various opportunities open up for today’s global citizens and their young children. As a result, not only different languages, but also various cultures can co-exist in today’s educational settings (Byram, Golubeva, Hui, & Wagner, 2017). As young learners get enrolled in multilingual/multicultural classrooms they found themselves surrounded by peers with diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds (Hollie, 2012). These languages and cultures influence one another; and eventually they even blend in together. Therefore, as in recent years more young learners are introduced to multilingual/multicultural educational settings, more of these young learners are also exposed to developing bi-, or multicultural identities (Csillik, 2019b) around the world.

When this happens, young children not only learn to cooperate and communicate with one another effectively by using all of their linguistic repertoires, but also they develop intercultural competence. According to Chen and Starosta (1999, p. 28) this is “the ability to effectively and appropriately execute communication behaviours that negotiate each other’s cultural identity or identities in a culturally diverse environment”. It encompasses the following: (1) being aware of one’s own world view, (2) developing positive attitudes towards cultural differences, (3) gaining knowledge of different cultural practices and world views (Byram et al., 2002). When young learners interact with their peers from different cultural backgrounds, they are interacting with other cultural views that is deeply tied to hidden networks of meanings, values, expectations, and beliefs that they are yet not aware of, or, it is way too difficult to comprehend due to their very different nature (Davidman & Davidman, 2001). So, how can young children successfully communicate with one another considering that they have different cultural, ethical, and linguistic backgrounds in multilingual/multicultural classrooms? How can young children learn about the various cultures that are represented in their classroom, and, how can they put aside their previously shaped biases towards a certain culture or ethnic group? These are just a few questions we might want to find answers for in this chapter.

The importance of language and culture learning is tremendous in today’s diverse educational settings around the world. The earlier language and culture learning start in a diverse society the better it is for its citizens. Therefore, it is especially crucial in the early childhood classrooms where young learners’ cognitive, social and emotional development is in the centre of attention (Derman-Sparks & Edwards, 2010). Gaining intercultural competence while being in the process of identity formation, young children are influenced very early on in multilingual/multicultural classrooms to take the opportunity and shape bi-, or, multicultural identities with the help of adults around them.

In the multilingual/multicultural early childhood classroom settings, young children bond with one another naturally, learn from each other constantly, and communicate freely regardless that they have different cultural backgrounds. Enabling young language learners to engage in social and interactive learning opportunities (such as play itself) allows them to learn even more about themselves (who they are, what values, traditions, attitudes they have, who they want to become, etc.), about others (who the rest of their classmates are, what customs, traditions, values, attitudes they represent, and how different these represented customs, traditions, values, attitudes are compared to their own ones), and about the world (Berk, 2013). This way, they build stronger awareness of the self, of other people, and of other cultures.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Translanguaging: The act of using different languages interchangeably, in order to overcome language constraints, to deliver verbal utterances or written statements effectively, and to ultimately achieve successful communication ( Csillik & Golubeva, 2019b ).

Emergent Bilinguals: The type of student whose bilingualism is still emerging ( García & Kleifgen, 2018 , p. 4).

Early Childhood Classroom: An educational setting that serves children in their pre-school years, where a number of activities and experiences are designed to aid in the academic, cognitive, and social development of preschoolers before they enter elementary school.

Intercultural Competence: The ability to effectively and appropriately communicate with people having different cultural background and/or language repertoire.

Classroom Diversity: The variation across groups of individuals in terms of their backgrounds and lived experiences in the multilingual/multicultural classroom, such as, race, ethnicity, gender, linguistic and cultural background, mental and physical ability, family structures, learning styles, immigration status, etc. It simply suggests that all students are unique in their own way and contribute in their very own way into the class work to strengthen the group’s potential for successful learning.

Translanguaging Practices: The practice of alternating or switching between two or more languages in a given communication for various reasons (e.g., missing word in one language, better fitting word in another language, strong cultural attachment, time saving to use shorter word[s], sounding fancier, leaving others out of the conversation, etc.), between interlocutors who belong to the same bilingual culture ( Csillik & Golubeva, 2020 ).

Multicultural Education: An educational setting with various social, cultural and ethnic groups in the macro-culture of the mainstream society. It promotes the understanding of different people and cultures in, includes teachings to accept and respect the normality of diversity in all areas of life, makes every effort to sensitize the learner to the notion that people naturally develop in different ways.

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