The Center for Research and Creative Activities had the privilege of interviewing Professor Sovicheth Boun of the Secondary and Higher Education Department at the Salem State University School of Education. Boun recently published a chapter titled, “Translanguaging in a Graduate Education Program at a Cambodian University” in the book English-Medium Instruction and Translanguaging, which came out earlier this year. The chapter explores the nature and use of English/Khmer translanguaging practices in an MEd Program at a university in Cambodia.
Translanguaging is the flexible and fluid use of two or more languages by bi-/multilingual speakers to mediate social and cognitive activities. As a pedagogy, translanguaging refers to the ways in which bi-/multilingual students and teachers engage in dynamic and complex discursive practices to make sense of teaching and learning, to communicate and acquire subject matter knowledge, and to develop academic language practices.
Translanguaging is similar to code-switching in that it refers to bi-/multilingual speakers’ shuttling between languages in a natural manner. However, in code-switching, the speaker’s languages are viewed as separate entities—that is, the students’ target language and native language are clearly divided. Translanguaging, on the other hand, represents an epistemic shift from traditional theorizations of bilingualism as two separate, bounded language systems and holds that bi-/multilingual speakers have a unitary linguistic repertoire composed of meaning-making features ready to be selected and deployed in different communicative contexts.
For most universities in Cambodia, the main medium of instruction is English. Boun and his co-author Wayne E. Wright (Purdue University), who was a Fulbright scholar at the university at the time, were interested in investigating how instructors and students at one of the country’s flagship public universities used translanguaging in their classrooms and across the program.
Specifically, Boun and Wright examined the instructors’ views and the students’ attitudes toward the use of English/Khmer translanguaging and explored the way in which the students and the instructors flexibly and fluidly used both English and Khmer (the national language of Cambodia) to communicate and appropriate the course content.
The study, conducted in the Master of Education program at the university in 2009 with a follow-up in 2011, was a mixed-methods case study consisting of semi-structured interviews, participant observations, analyses of program documents, and a student questionnaire.
The participants included 64 students from three cohorts, 5 faculty members, and one program director. The students in the program were mixed: some were government officials from the Ministry of Education whose English-speaking skills were not as strong as other students who were recent graduate students and staff members from the local NGOs. The study revealed that the students struggled with the demands for English within the program, and desired and benefitted from the use of Khmer, along with English.
The Khmer/English translanguaging practices within the classroom and across the program made the academic content more accessible to the students and provided greater opportunities for success than if the program were conducted entirely in Khmer or English. The study offers insights and guidance to other educators grappling with the English-medium instruction (EMI) issues, and a better understanding of translanguaging practices in academic settings where the use of a single language may be insufficient.
Boun stated that they’d presented on their findings at a couple of international conferences in the past, and in 2019 were invited to write a chapter based on their research on translanguaging for an edited volume titled English-Medium Instruction and Translanguaging.
Boun said his research is mainly focused on teacher education, bilingual education, second language acquisition, and language policy. His goal is to continue to expand on his research on translanguaging and its potential to promote the academic and language development, as well as social justice for bi-/multilingual speakers and learners.
“We need to look at how we can leverage the concept of translanguaging to support our bilingual students and their instructors.” While this chapter is based on the study of graduate students, Boun said that he has also been collaborating with Wright and other colleagues to study language/bilingual education and practices in the public schools both in Cambodia and the U.S.
Congratulations Professor Boun!