“What do you think about this?”: A Collaborative Approach to Transforming Ideas into Class Activities on Translingual Writing

This post is based on a Spring 2017 Summit presentation on learning outcome #8 

Have you ever felt lost not knowing how to address Learning Outcome 8: Cultural and Ethical Impacts Translingual and Transcultural Writing in your classroom? During their session at the Spring 2017 Summit, Su Yin Khor and Cristina Sánchez-Martín talked about how to exchange ideas regarding this outcome and build on them to fit your teaching style and classroom exigencies.

They started off discussing what LO8 means to them.  While Translingual and Transcultural writing might refer to cross-cultural writing (or writing done by ethnically and diverse writers traditionally labeled as English as a Second Language or multilingual writers), it also allows us to engage in conversations about writing done by the so-called users of “mainstream” Englishes. By considering all writers no matter their background, Translingual and Transcultural writing fosters social justice in the classroom. Two important aspects that can be discussed in class regarding any type of writing involve the ideas of  English as a language always in translation and the move beyond the “one mode/one language” myth. In other words, composing means translation even by just transforming thoughts into other types of communication that combine multiple modalities and linguistic forms.

After this brief clarification, Cristina presented Su Yin’s activity “Debunking Language Myths”, which revolved around presenting students with a variety of myths about language. For example,

“Most people in the world only speak one language”, “The correct English is spoken in North America, the UK, Australia and New Zealand” and “Some people are just really good at learning languages, while others just don’t have the ability to do it”. In Su Yin’s class, students think about whether those statements are true or false before she tells them that they are all incorrect. Cristina’s version of the activity would ask students to research genres in which those myths are present and consider ways of recomposing the genres (or even recompose/translate them) by avoiding the myths. Finally, her students would discuss how to make the chances possible to avoid those myths and how to trace their research/process through their uptake genres.

Next, Su Yin presented Cristina’s activity and her take on it.  Cristina’s activity was called “Cross-cultural genres: Antecedent knowledge in practice”. In her class, she shows her students five or six cross-cultural genres in multiple languages and asks them to identify the conventions they know as well as aspects that are unfamiliar to them. Therefore, students have the chance to reflect on their antecedent genre knowledge as a step prior to researching the missing information they need about each genre. Inspired by Wesley Jacques’ Grassroots Writing Research Journal Article The E-Cat’s Meow: Exploring Activity in Translingual Mobile Gaming”, Cristina asks her students to do an experiment in which they are asked to navigate a website in a language other than English in order to put in the shopping cart a clothing item they’d buy. While doing the activity, students realize their antecedent genre and linguistic knowledge. For example, they understand how shopping websites are set up and organized, the meaning of multiple symbols (like the shopping cart, the sizes chart, etc.), numeric and alphabetic symbols, the use of color (for example a red number below an image of a sweater means that it is on sale) and so on. On the contrary, they need to engage in additional research activities to accomplish their goal. Among these, currency and sizes conversions are key. Su Yin’s take on the activity involved a more explicit discussion on the research side of it. Some of the questions she would ask her students are: What specific methods can you employ to understand the genres that you were unable to understand? What tools are required to figure them out? What resources could you use to find the required information to understand the genres? How do you document that research and learning process?