Trans-lingualism in Action with and for the Students


Ligiapic1 copyOriginally from Romania, I have been accustomed to hearing multiple languages since I was a child. Until my arrival in the US, I never thought about ordering languages in a particular sequence. While Romanian is my native language—to employ the US parlance—English has been my writing language, French is my foreign language, and Latin is my ancestors’ language. The latter language—“the most alive dead language” as a colleague would say—has been instilled and drilled in my literacy education year after year. The rhetorical function of each language cannot be subsumed under first, second, or third category. These languages are richly interactive and purposeful for specific contexts.

Like me, my students defy linguistic, ethnic, or racial categories that emplace or conform them. My students at Barry University in South Florida are indeed multilingual, but their relationship with languages of the world is flexible and changing as they themselves are moving across contexts. My students’ linguistic repertoires include Cuban Spanish, Mexican Spanish, Jamaican patois, French, German, Italian, Puerto Rican Spanish, Creole, American English, British English, Arabic, and several others. Many of my students went through the process of acquiring one language, losing another, only to commit themselves to relearning the initial language. Many carry with them histories of reading and writing that cannot be squeezed into English-only academic contexts. In South Florida, Spanish or Portuguese or Creole or even Russian and Romanian permeate our social worlds—stores, local neighborhoods, radio programs, or homes.

We are multilingual, and we celebrate being multilingual.

In light of this local diversity, I ask:

What can we, as compositionists and rhetoricians, do to move theory to practice as we take on the multilingual/ translingual approach?

In a recent essay in College English, Dana R. Ferris notes that the reviewed scholarship advocating for cross-cultural/ translingual approaches seems to promote “philosophical rather than pedagogical” agendas (80). A paraphrase of Ferris’s critique may be turned into this question:

What do we do in the translingual approach, and how?

While scholars promoting translingual pedagogies—Steven Alvarez, Suresh Canagarajah, Jay Jordan, or Brian Ray to name a few—have taken active steps towards pedagogical implementations, the feasibility of adopting a translingual approach in teaching continues to pose difficulties. This question, then, remains standing:

What do we as translingual/ multilingual scholars do or promote as translingual actions?

As a new Assistant Professor but also as the multilingual pedagogy coordinator, I envision the translingual approach as a concrete form of social justice; this means taking actions that would allow the multilingual lives of our students to thrive, beyond the Writing Center or plagiarism concerns. To this end, I envision collaboration actions operating both in the writing classroom through multiple pedagogies, and outside the writing classroom, across campus and communities. In Literacy as Translingual Practice, A. Suresh Canagarajah defines the term “translingual,” through a specific reference to the prefix, trans. Trans- connotes mobility and affirms more forcefully interactions between languages; trans also upholds communication through various modalities of expression, oral, visual, tactile, etc. If we take the trans-lingual approach at heart, then this mobility should operate in terms of pedagogy as well. In short, I propose pedagogical partnerships between the translingual approach and multimodal pedagogy/ scholarship and certainly, with other relevant pedagogies.

Consider the example of a literacy memoir that students write in their first-year writing class. Since students at Barry University not only come from diverse backgrounds, but also live in multilingual contexts here in Miami, a literacy memoir will almost always implicate multilingualism. Even when it does not, a literacy memoir connects one to the social lives of other people, to voices and experiences of teachers, parents, siblings, etc. In this literacy memoir, students are encouraged to engage with oral, visual, alphabetic texts, and any other modalities that are suitable expression of their experiences. Even when students only use alphabetic texts, the critique of a parent, the whispering voice of a forbidding novel, newly arrived immigrant’s struggle to understand English, or the comforting language of community members permeate the text of a literacy memoir. A concrete illustration of this is my student Jehrade’s literacy memoir.

Before he recorded segments of his literacy memoir, Jehrade had already included in his essay his Jamaican patois, the caring voices of his mother, as well as the nagging criticism of neighbors. A multimodal approach—whether through text, audio, or other modalities—enhances the rhetorical effect of this literacy memoir. It amplifies voices and experiences. The translingual approach, in this memoir, manifests rhetorically as a necessity for full expression.

The second dimension involving collaboration across and outside the campus unlocks multimodal/ translingual approaches for the writing classroom to address wider audiences. Consider Jehrade’s story. On this digital platform, his story invites rhetorical listening, and his Jamaican patois and education demonstrate that he has the right to his own languages and that he is exerting this right. Thusly, Jehrade indeed becomes a legitimate user of multiple languages because we created a space he can occupy. Most importantly, this memoir using both multimodal and translingual approaches is itself a form of social justice/ action. Such narratives and many other could be published in the local or campus newspaper, could be disseminated at a student conference, presented at various campus events, or introduced at the university or community library. The multilingual/ translingual expression represents a form of citizenship engaging the social life of students, faculty, and community members—local or global. Just saying someone has the right to their own languages (my pluralization) does not do it. We must do more. As instructors, researchers, administrators, we must continue to build collaboration with multimedia scholars/ pedagogues, community activists, and local administrators to develop spaces where multilingual/ translingual actions can indeed grow. If the process has been to contain multilingualism (Matsuda), then the logic calls it that we should permeate the social worlds all around us. If until recently, we have responded to monolingual trends and myths, then it is time we tap into the generative force of translingualism and allow it to expand not just as a theory but as an everyday social action.

Works Cited

Canagarajah, A. Suresh. “Introduction.” Literacy as Translingual Practice Between Communities and Classroom. Ed. A. Suresh Canagarajah, New York: Routledge, 2013. 1-10. Print.

Ferris, Dana R. “Review: “English Only” and Multilingualism in Composition Studies: Policy, Philosophy, and Practice.” College English 77.1 (2014): 73-83. Print.

Jordan, Jay. Redesigning Composition for Multilingual Realities. Urbana: NCTE, 2012. Print.

Matsuda, Paul K. “The Myth of Linguistic Homogeneity in U.S. College Composition.” College English 68.6 (2006): 637-651. Print.

Ray, Brian. “A Progymnasmata for Our Time: Adapting Classical Exercises to Teach Translingual Style.” Rhetoric Review 32.2 (2013):191–209. Print.




  • Ligia Mihut

    Ligia Mihut is Assistant Professor of English at Barry University. Her work explores transnational literacies, multilingualism, and emotion studies.


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