Suresh Canagarajah on Translingualism: A Four Part Interview, Part III

Shakil Rabbi, PhD candidate in Rhetoric and Composition at Pennsylvania State University, spends the hour with Suresh Canagarajah, Edwin Erle Sparks Professor and Director of the Migration Studies Project at Pennsylvania State University, to discuss  the role and position of translingualism amidst neoliberalism, the growth of multilingual students in writing classrooms, and monolingual ideologies.

This third part highlights how translingualism is relevant to places and/or contexts that see themselves as monolingual.

SHAKIL RABBI: How does translingualism relate to monolingual educational contexts?

How is it being used in Higher Education?

SURESH CANAGARAJAH: There is, first of all, a slight contradiction in these monolingual policies, educational policies of higher education institutions in the West. Because, on the one hand, they talk about globalization, diversity, and issues like that. But they still haven’t changed a lot of their dominant ideologies about and/or relating to monolingualism. So translingualism might show up these inconsistencies and tensions. That if you really want to address globalization, diversity, multilingualism. Then even with the native speaker students you have to develop an awareness of languages as plural, as fluid, as diverse. So that is one issue. We might actually do a service to educational institutions, in a way by showing them how much they have to change, and what they can do pedagogically to further their own ends, their own agendas of globalization, diversity, etcetera.

But from a resistant point of view, you know it’s possible that these changes are going to take a long time. You know, political structures, ideologies, are not easy to change. But I think teachers and students are finding spaces in their classrooms to write differently, to develop a translingual awareness. And that’s a very promising development.

So, there are spaces I see in classrooms where teachers have been creative, teachers have been aware. Part of the issue is that, you know, it’s a political point. What they say is, surveillance is not for hundred percent. You know, the institutions of education can’t enforce their dominant ideology completely, because there are spaces that are very– that are not under their control, like, you know, classroom spaces.

Okay, there is a fifty minute class. And maybe for thirty minutes a teacher focuses on what the school wants. But for twenty minutes they might have a creative activity that addresses translingualism. It’s difficult to control.

But the other thing is, on a more pragmatic note, I think teachers and students have to still wrestle with monolingualism, the dominant norms, even as they develop a translingual awareness. Because you know we suffer if we don’t address the norms that are out there. This doesn’t mean fulfilling the monolingual norms without reservation, you know, without qualification, just like doing what they want.

You can do it in a very savvy way. That is while– There are many ways to do this. A lot of teachers sometimes say the best way to succeed in the exams and, you know, the testing systems that we have now, which are monolingual, is to develop a translingual awareness. You know if you can shuttle between languages, this person has a better understanding of the norms, reductive as they might be in particular situations, compared to a student who studies only those norms hundred percent. So it’s a paradox, where translingual awareness will actually help you succeed in an exam or in an educational agenda which prioritizes monolingual norms.

This doesn’t mean, you know, that we teach students only those norms. But what we teach our students is shuttling between norms. And knowing how languages are diverse will actually help you succeed with the standards we have now. Because you are actually going above and beyond what the school wants from you. And it also makes you successful outside of these monolingual norms. I mean when have to find a job, when you travel outside, you are going to engage with other norms that are out there.

So I’m not against monolingual norms. I don’t think they are set in stone. It’s an ideology. For people, it’s a political issue, about whose norms matter. But translingualism can–by relating to those norms–also develop a richer repertoire of norms and resources, that the students can use both to succeed in the school but also succeed outside.

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2 Responses to Suresh Canagarajah on Translingualism: A Four Part Interview, Part III

  1. Rachel says:

    Thank you for these interviews. One thing I have noticed in regard to resistance towards the translingual model is that some scholars and educators feel that if one is enacting a translingual approach, he or she is ignoring the standards (Standard English or “edited English”) we value in academe. As you have noted, that is not the case. In the area where I teach there is a common dialect that many of my students (and locals) use. Because I am not from this area, this English is very noticeable to me, but not to my students. To them, it is the norm. Enacting a translingual approach has allowed me to “teach awareness,” rather than “correct” something that my students are not aware of. The latter, in my opinion, is more productive.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. suresh says:

    Good example. Thanks, Rachel.


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