Joanna McPake, Fiona O’Hanlon, Mary Andrew, Ann MacDonald & Mona Wilson

Eadar-chànanachadh: Gaelic-medium teachers’ perspectives on translanguaging

Translanguaging – or eadar-chànanachadh in Gaelic – has become a critical concept in current debates concerning bilingualism, representing both a way of understanding how bilinguals use both languages in daily life (García, 2009), and also a transformative pedagogical practice whereby bilingual learners develop content knowledge and strengthen their competence in both languages through their systematic variation in input and output of each in the classroom (Baker, 2011). However, in the context of language revitalisation initiatives, translanguaging can be perceived as threatening the increasingly limited opportunities for learning and using an endangered language: for example, in the context of Basque-medium education, Cenoz (2015) has argued the need for ‘breathing spaces’ for such languages.

This paper reports on initial findings from current research with prospective and practising teachers working in Gaelic-medium education (GME) in Scotland, to investigate their perspectives on the potential of translanguaging as a pedagogical practice. The work has been conducted by researchers and teacher educators at the Universities of Strathclyde and Edinburgh, two Scottish universities with a significant commitment to initial teacher education and professional development for GME teachers.

The research involves focus group discussions with groups of student teachers, and with practising primary and secondary teachers, about to start work or already teaching, in Gaelic-medium classrooms in urban and island locations in Scotland. Having read in advance Baker’s 2011 account of translanguaging, in English, each group is invited to discuss, in Gaelic, their responses to this approach. They are encouraged to consider how translanguaging might work in their own classroom practices, how it fits with principles of Gaelic-medium education set out in national policy and planning documents, and how it might promote the desired outcomes of Gaelic-medium education, both for students and for the revitalisation project. The exercise mirrors a translanguaging task, enabling focus group participants to reflect on their own experiences of working in this way, as well as considering possible applications in the classroom.

The findings will have a bearing on initial teacher education and professional development for teachers working in Gaelic-medium education, establishing whether GME teachers perceive eadar-chànanachadh to be a threat or an opportunity.

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