Translanguaging instead of standardisation: Writing Romani at school

János Imre Heltai 1
  • 1 Department of Hungarian Linguistics, Institute of Hungarian Linguistic, Literary and Cultural Studies, Károli Gáspár University of the Reformed Church of Hungary, Institute of Hungarian Linguistic, Literary and Cultural Studies, Budapest, Hungary
János Imre Heltai
  • Corresponding author
  • Department of Hungarian Linguistics, Institute of Hungarian Linguistic, Literary and Cultural Studies, Károli Gáspár University of the Reformed Church of Hungary, Institute of Hungarian Linguistic, Literary and Cultural Studies, Budapest, Hungary
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Abstract

In most public education in the western world the existence of a standardized language variety is still regarded as a precondition of teaching writing. This stance generates a problem in situations where no standardized variety matches the children’s home language practices and no traditions of an extended and standardised literacy exist. Roma students in Hungary have to acquire writing skills in the majority language (Hungarian), since the teaching of writing cannot rely on a standardized Romani language. In this way, school writing activities seem unrelated to the local discoursal practices of their own community. This puts Romani-speaking children at a disadvantage in learning to write, and reduces their chances of academic success. This paper reports on an ongoing project in Tiszavasvári, Hungary, designed to offer an alternative to approaches that wish to eliminate the disadvantages of Roma students by creating a standardized language. It explores the possibility of applying a translanguaging approach to the teaching of writing, arguing that if teachers allow students to draw on their local Romani-bounded non-standardised language practices, including the grassroots literacy activities occurring in the community, their general writing skills can be improved. For this to happen, teachers must be trained in translanguaging pedagogy, so that they can transcend the boundaries staked out by monolingual ideologies. The hitherto prevailing view that posits an indissoluble connection between standard, school and writing should be set aside. It should also be realized that general linguistic competences can, and should, be separated from language-specific competences. A key endeavour of the Tiszavasvári project has been to convert teachers to the translanguaging stance, and some promising signs can be reported. The introduction of local translanguaging practices into the teaching of writing fostered new learning practices among the students and began to change the pedagogical stance of teachers participating in the project.

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