top of page

Translanguaging During COVID19

by Suzanne García-Mateus, Ph.D.

Article in Reference: “Le Hacemos La Lucha”: Learning from Madres Mexicanas’ Multimodal Approaches to Raising Bilingual, Biliterate Children by Idalia Nuñez, Language Arts, Volume 97, Number 1, September 2019

This paper was written prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it expands on the ways students can continue distance learning at home with parental support. In that sense, it is quite timely.

The Madres Mexicanas and their children in this study were transfronterizxs. Transfronterizxs are individuals who grew up crossing an international border daily for different purposes. This article highlights the ways in which Spanish-speaking Madres Mexicanas living on the border of Texas and Mexico supported their children’s bilingualism and biliteracy in the home. The children lived in either Mexico or the U.S. and crossed the border daily to go to school, for their parents' work, and/or to run errands with their mother.

The author, Idalia Nuñez, a transfronteriza herself, describes the multimodal strategies mothers used to maintain and grow their children's bilingualism. Multimodality is defined as the different ways people communicate such as: speaking, reading, writing, listening, and body language. One of the main goals of the paper is to share with teachers the ways in which they can connect with parents to extend and support digital learning in the home.

It was important for the mothers to have their children practice and maintain their use and understanding of both Spanish and English. They expressed an interest in their children being able to communicate with family members in Spanish, and being able to get a good job when they were older because they were bilingual. The strategies the mothers shared with the author included using digital tools, such as YouTube and Netflix, in either Spanish or English to create a science project or practice their English and Spanish. The mothers also had their children use their tablets, cell phones, and PlayStation to read, write and speak in either Spanish or English. Below are examples of how digital tools were used to support their children’s bilingualism:

  • Children watched a Netflix movie in English with Spanish subtitles. This way the mother understood what was being said and happening in the movie and would ask the child in Spanish what was happening. The child listened to the movie in English, to their mother in Spanish, and responded in Spanish.

  • Children read text messages in Spanish and respond to them (for the mom) in Spanish. Children would have to read and write in Spanish, maintaining their Spanish literacy skills.

  • One child watched YouTube in Spanish and created science experiments while the mom asked the child questions in Spanish about the experiment. The science experiment supported reading, listening, and speaking and using science vocabulary in Spanish.

The above activities involved what scholars in academia call translanguaging, commonly known as Spanglish. Translanguaging involves the use of two or more languages to communicate.

As in the example above, where one child watched a movie in English and talked about it in Spanish with their mother. Translanguaging is also the simultaneous use of one language con otro idioma (as in this sentence).

Children in this study were also language brokers, which involves translating for parents as necessary in different contexts such as at a bank or a grocery store. Translanguaging (which includes translating) is a bi-literacy skill teachers should tap into for academic learning in the classroom.

One of the most important aspects of this paper is urging teachers to be mindful about of how they include Spanish-speaking parents language and literacy practices to support their child’s bilingualism. The author suggested sending a survey home to find out what kind of digital tools parents have access to, to support bilingualism and biliteracy. The author also suggested teachers and schools create a free library of movies and video games for children to be able to use at home.

These are also activities we can do now as we think about distance learning during a global pandemic. Since this article was written before COVID-19, I am left wondering if the author would consider additional ways teachers and parents can work together to make distance learning more engaging or effective for bilingual children?

Suzanne García-Mateus is a child of immigrants, mother of two multilingual daughters, first-generation Ph.D. and an Assistant Professor in the Education and Leadership Department and the Director of M.I.E.L at California State University-Monterey Bay.

Here is a link of resources via the Monterey Institute for English Learners, many created by bilingual teachers, parents and teachers can use at home as we learn to navigate unchartered waters during a global pandemic.

If you would like to read the paper referenced by Professor García-Mateus, please email


bottom of page