So What’s the Difference?

Code-switching versus “Translanguaging”

Derek Braun, TESOL/OFLA Liaison
Columbus City Schools, EL Science Teacher

The terms code-switching and translanguaging both describe the languaging practices of bi/multilinguals.  These terms are often conflated and misinterpreted in their distinction and application.  Code-switching is a speech style in which fluent bilinguals move in and out of two (or more) languages (MacSwan 2000).  Translanguaging presents the idea that bi/multilinguals have a single linguistic repertoire from which they select features to strategically communicate effectively.  Code-switching assumes that the two languages of bilinguals are two separate monolingual codes that could be used without reference to each other (Hesson, Seltzer, & Woodley 2014).  Translanguaging focuses on the individual’s discourse and action of communicating void of identifying or classifying elements of language use as belonging to any particular system.

García (2009) connects the term translanguaging to existing outside of structured languages; instead referring to the notions of language as fluid and permeable, rather than locked and bound. García (2009) also suggests translanguaging as a preferable alternative to the term code-switching for understanding bilinguals’ routine interactions across a range of settings.  Translanguaging is a very typical way in which bilinguals engage their bilingual worlds.  It is not code-switching but more about hybrid language use that is systematic, strategic and sense-making for speaker and listener (García 2009).  Viewing bi/multilingual practices through a translanguaging framework is a socio-political act as it disrupts the conforming to the linguistic systems of politically named languages. 

The term translanguaging was coined in Welsh by Cen Williams to refer to a practice of deliberately changing the language of input and the language of output (Wright, Boun, García, 2015).  Translanguaging, as used by Williams, refers to a pedagogic theory that involves students learning two languages through a process of deep cognitive bilingual engagement.  In education, translanguaging refers to the use of one language as a reinforcement as a means of increasing understanding with the benefit of assisting a student’s activity in both languages (Wright, Boun, García, 2015).  Translanguaging has been characterized in the literature internationally as flexible bilingualism, plurilingualism, hybrid language practices, and polylingual languaging. In the classroom, translanguaging practices can include translating, paraphrasing, interpreting, and code‐switching, language interactive practices emergent bilingual students use to comprehend and produce new language practices valued and reinforced in schools (Wright, Boun, García, 2015 page 351).

Perspectives toward language use have direct implications for understanding bi/multilingual students discourse and developing effective pedagogy.  It often can be difficult to predict and label the language use of bi/multilingual students. Understanding translanguaging helps educators better develop effective pedagogy for bi/multilingual students.  Translanguaging permits bilinguals to appropriate all language practices as their very own, including those in English, and those for academic purposes. (Hesson, Seltzer, & Woodley 2014).  Translanguaging disrupts the hierarchy that places “native” English speakers as having English, and thus superior to those who are acquiring English as a “second” language. 


García, O. (2009a). Bilingual education in the 21st century: A global perspective. Malden, MA: Wiley/Blackwell.

Hesson, S., Seltzer, K., & Woodley, H. H. (2014). Translanguaging in curriculum and instruction: A CUNY-NYSIEB guide for educators. New York: CUNY-NYSIEB unter: http://www. nysieb. ws. gc. cuny.edu/files/2014/12/Translanguaging-Guide-Curr-Inst-Final-December-2014. pdf [zuletzt geprüft 24.9. 2016].

MacSwan, J. (2000). The Architecture of the Bilingual Language Faculty: Evidence from Intrasentential Code Switching. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 3(1), 37–54. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.proxy.lib.ohio-state.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=mzh&AN=2000090520&site=eds-live&scope=site

Wright, W. E., Boun, S., & García, O. (Eds.). (2015). The handbook of bilingual and multilingual education. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.


This entry was posted in Affiliates, Uncategorized, Winter 2020. Bookmark the permalink.

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