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Alfa: Revista de Linguística (São José do Rio Preto)

Print version ISSN 0002-5216On-line version ISSN 1981-5794

Alfa, rev. linguíst. (São José Rio Preto) vol.62 no.1 São Paulo Jan./Mar. 2018 



Jaddy Brigitte NIELSEN NIÑO*  1002 

*Corporación Universitaria Minuto de Dios (UNIMINUTO).

1002FUNIFELT International Foundation, Academic Department Zipaquirá – Colombia.


This article is about the study of translanguaging in the sociolinguistic performance in a group of 22 foreign students who acquire Spanish as a foreign language in a Colombian University. This article explains translanguaging as a strategic resource that refers to the combination of changes so happens, from the translation, changing code-switching and language-switching, for that reason it is defined in the process of learning a language other than the mother tongue, in this case Spanish. Data were collected through direct observation recorded in a field journal. Semi-structured interviews were conducted from the sample of participants and artifacts were used by the students in their learning process of the Spanish lessons. Data were analyzed inductively by certain categories of analysis from the concepts, issues and relationships, in order to give optimal answer to research questions. Concluding that translanguaging is a phenomenon that greatly influences the development of the foreign language.

Key words: Translanguaging; Spanish in Colombia; Strategic resource; Students; Teachers of languages


Learning and teaching a foreign language and the complex multicultural processes that take place in the contexts in which they occur need to be adequately understood through careful study. One of the most deserving phenomena of study in these contexts is the use of the mother tongue in the processes of learning a foreign language by teachers and trainees. It is impossible to think that adult people who already effectively manage their own language do not use it to learn a new language, but we know that there are diametrically opposed ideas about the usefulness and the goodness of doing so. There are foreign language teachers who think that the mother tongue is only a source of interference and an obstacle to the foreigner’s learning and banish their use within the classroom; And there are those who believe that, as acquired linguistic knowledge, the mother tongue can greatly facilitate the learning of the foreigner and must be an essential element in the process.

More in the background of this discussion are the problems related to the cultural content of language learning. Those who defend the unique use of the foreign language in the contexts of their learning usually overlook the fact that the use of the foreign language brings with it the content of the culture of those who speak it. This cultural content can prevail if it is handled in a unique way and restricts the use of the mother tongue, the cultural comparison consequences, affect in the learner its own cultural knowledge and consequently also its identity. The reflection on how to make the learning of a foreign language result in truly additive processes (LAMBERT, 1974), both linguistic and cultural, is at the centre of the pedagogical decisions that are faced for a foreign language teacher day by day.

This study focuses in particular on the strategic processes used by learners and teachers of Spanish as a foreign language in a context in which this new language is necessary to live in community. For this purpose, the researchers investigate what happens with the native languages of the apprentices in three different types of Spanish classes that are taught for foreign students at Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Bogota. It is observed the use that these students make of their mother tongues and the attitudes and pedagogical actions of the teachers in relation to this use; it is also inquired about the effectiveness of practices involving the use of the mother tongue in the classroom. To carry out this study, the concept of translanguaging is mainly used, a concept which has been developed during the last years in various educational contexts where the reference point is English and the population under study has been mostly children between the ages of 3 and 17 years. It is a process that has not yet been investigated in Latin America in depth and in which the teaching-learning of Spanish as a foreign language has not been taken as a research context.

The article is organized as follows. In section two (2), describes the research methodology that was carried out; and, in section three (3) some of the partial results obtained. Finally, section four (4) presents the conclusions derived from this research study.

Extraction of terms from the background

The approach of Translanguaging as a concept in literature is still very scarce, and therefore its definition remains vague. In recent years an attempt has been made to conduct research on this subject in the field of education, and especially studies in basic and secondary education in the United States and Europe. The use of the term part of Wales, in 1980, when it was decided to teach lessons in the classroom using two languages, the Welsh mother tongue and the official English language, in order to achieve learning more effective from English. This pedagogical use that related the two languages was denominated ten years after trawsieithu in Welsh and translingyifying in English. Over time the experts saw the need to write it in a more understandableway, for what was called translanguaging. Although there is a translation established in a document in Argentina called translanguage “characterized by the flexible use of more than one language to adjust the interaction to the recipients” (Subsecretaría de Educación, 2016) the term has not been formalized by governmental educational entities in Latin America, omitting for its part the sociocultural aspect of the individuals, therefore in this investigation it is called translanguaging.

In this study, translanguaging is defined as a strategic resource that is strengthened within multilingual classrooms, allowing the development of the student’s linguistic abilities in both languages (language of instruction-language of origin) based on a significant pedagogical approach that enhances the multiple practices pedagogical and discursive in which individuals (students and teachers) participate in order to generate lasting learning and a natural contextualization of the multicultural environment in which they find themselves (LEWIS, 2012; LI, 2011; LI; HUA, 2013; WILLIAMS, 1994, 1996).

In this way the translanguaging is not simply a mixture of linguistic forms of diverse languages or dialects, since it really implies a variety of articulations and negotiations of the language and developed in social spaces, besides the linguistic identities are not static or monolithic, on the contrary they are dynamic and complex (NIELSEN, 2017).

For this reason, Williams (2002) coined the term translanguaging as the transition from one language to another within the classroom, in order to reinforce and increase the understanding of two languages in use by the student. Then, Williams (2012) determines that the process of translanguaging should focus on the students and not the teachers, but without excluding that it is a process that must be controlled by the latter. From this approach, six years later the term translanguaging had generated impact among educators and experts in both North America and Europe especially in bilingual education classrooms. Taking as reference a particular case, García (2009a) considers that translanguaging should be used by emerging bilinguals to make decisions about the language they learn and organize their previous knowledge; In other words, translanguaging can become a mechanism for the construction of knowledge with others and mediation between linguistic groups. In subsequent works García (2009b) focuses on the study of different immigrant communities in New York City where he believes that if there is no use of translanguaging it is impossible to generate assertive communication.

However, García (2011) states that he does not agree that translanguaging is designated as a simple pedagogical practice. The author defines the term translanguaging as a pedagogical strategy that should be constructed starting from four specific objectives: the first of them is that the students “translanguajeen” in academic contexts, without any limit; the second is to make use of materials and resources that help the student in the learning process in order to identify the difference between the languages, to develop solid bilingual processes; thirdly, it is about students constructing consolidated learning processes in any subject, so that all teachers can practice translanguaging regardless of the specialty; and finally translanguaging should be the opportunity to practice the languages learned both at home and at school.

At the same time, García (2013) is totally in agreement with people who use a certain language as a negotiation of knowledge and situations, but at the same time they have to think about the language or the language of instruction. García (2013) defines translanguaging as the decisions of bilingual practices with meaning from the perspective of the speaker, but which in turn involves all students and teachers in the use of those bilingual or multilingual discursive practices in a natural and “meaningful” way. “That manages to generate learning and teaching in the different classrooms.

In this way, translanguaging in education can be defined as a process by which teachers and students engage in discursive practices that include linguistic processes to substantially maintain communication and appropriate knowledge of the concepts developed.

Thus, it can be said that the teaching of a language should depend less on the grammatical structures and yet provide the student the opportunity to have lasting learning without the need to demonstrate the learning of a foreign language mechanically or isolated from the reality in which students live. This means that teachers must take on the role of facilitator and that in turn they should encourage their students to use the language of instruction more frequently. According to García (2014), teachers must be able to identify the use of different linguistic practices that impact on students in the classroom, this also allows understanding when, how, where and why students are making use of said practices and for what purpose.

The translanguaging has also been studied in some European nations, including the United Kingdom, where a study was conducted with Asian students who had to make constant use of English. Li (2011) who was a university professor and who belonged to the Department of Applied Linguistics of the University of London, conducted a case study with three young Asians living in London, United Kingdom, also as an initial characteristic the ages of young people ranged from the 19 and 20 year olds, all of them were in their first year as undergraduate students in a mathematics program at one of the universities in London. To carry out the research, the information was collected through semi-structured interviews, observations and recordings of all the social interactions these students had with their families, classmates and off-campus.

In the analysis of this study, the university professor was able to identify that Asian youth mixed the use of the two languages (English-Chinese) when interacting with people of the same origin or of other nationalities, even several of them affirmed that they chose to study Mathematics because, although they did very well to speak English, they found it difficult to write it. On the other hand, they were creative with the use of language, an example that was given in this research, was the use of Chinese interjections in English, that is, young Asians said all the time Cake seller! That upon hearing it an English-speaking person would not understand the true use until they explained to him that the translation into the Chinese language was 麦 高 德 (Màigāo dé) which to them sounded similar to English when it says My God! But they preferred to use the literal translation from Chinese to English. However, Asians as a rule when they are in a country where the linguistic code is completely different change their original names according to the context so that others can pronounce it, for example, in this investigation it was evidenced that one of them was called 張龍 (Zhānglóng) and in the English translation is Long John, but his relatives and friends from the foreign country knew him as John.

This study determines that being multilingual generates networks and spaces that help to build social ties with different people and even mixing languages generates a multilingual identity, if it is done naturally because multilingualism does not mean being able to speak different languages separately, but easily unfold among them. In conclusion, the term translanguaging is determined as the use between structures and linguistic systems that go beyond the mere definition, because it was useful to create a social space for multilingual speakers in different dimensions such as personal, historical and attitudinal, as well as includes a range of linguistic performances of multilingual speakers with purposes that transcend the combination of structures, the alternation between systems, the transmission of information, the representation of values, identities and social relations.

In addition, taking the previous study as a reference; two years later Li and Hua (2013), studied translanguaging in the multilingual practice used by transnational individuals; That is, foreign subjects who move to a different nation of their own. In particular, students with different Asian ethnicities, as a result this research focuses on a group of university students, including the three students of the previous study and two more that have been part of a multilingual and transnational academic network with different members of the London community. In addition, the collection of information from this study is carried out through student narratives and ethnographic observations, with the aim of exploring aspects such as the process of socio-cultural identification of students, the interactions between their linguistic ideologies and policies, multilingual practices and what they have learned since they have been part of this type of social and academic networks.

This study recognizes the ability of transnational individuals to mobilize their linguistic resources and the re-construction of different relationships and meanings within a specific social context, in this case London. In turn, it enhances the creative qualities of the mixture of languages, hybridization and miscegenation that can occur in this context (LI; HUA, 2013). For this reason, the term translanguaging is taken as reference, which is defined as the best form, both of the natural dynamics of the use of the language and multilingual practices of various kinds, as well as the ability of the speaker to redefine the information for mobilize their linguistic resources and thus create new social spaces.

Over time, the increased use of the term translanguaging has drawn attention to language researchers, educators and linguists, and some experts have given several pedagogical and methodological interpretations. In fact, several authors advocate the importance of the translanguaging concept with a view to developing bilingualism not only in specific communities, but also regionally and globally.

In the first instance, Baker et al. (s.f.) rely on Williams (1996) to discuss how to use the term within the educational setting. It defines translanguaging as a pedagogical theory and as a cognitive process that implies the exchange in the use of two languages to achieve important educational results. As a pedagogical theory, translanguaging allows the use of diverse cognitive processing skills in the development of communication skills. Baker et al. (s.f.) mention, for example, cognitive assimilation and accommodation in comprehension processes, and the selection and storage of information in memory, essential for communication. Based on the above, translanguaging is a much more complex process than simply translating from one language to another, which is limited to the parallel recognition of words.

Williams (1994, 1996) had recognized the phenomenon of translanguaging as a pedagogical practice by indicating that the use of two languages generates a bilingual classroom in which students receive information through the first language and then through the second. In fact, the National Assembly of Wales, according to Williams (2012), had the intention of generating bilingual students from early childhood, that is, from kindergartens to primary school, considering that the implementation of translanguaging as a pedagogical practice was really a method appropriate for children to acquire or maintain proficiency in their two languages. In this way true bilingualism was developed, more than the mere teaching of a foreign language.

Baker (2011) establishes four educative advantages of this process conceptualized by Williams: first, he considers the specific purpose of translanguaging as promoting deeper and more complex understandings of a certain topic from the establishment of the Zone of Near Development (ZDP) by Vygotsky (1978); indicates that this purpose is met if the first language is used as a mediator for new learning and as a basis for prior knowledge in a relationship of interdependence between languages that establishes a true support scaffolding for the learning of the new language; It also indicates that the higher the level of proficiency in the second language, the more linguistic transfer will be possible.

Secondly, Baker (2011) states that translanguajear is a pedagogical practice that can help the advancement of the less developed language especially in oral communication and reading and writing in academic context, thus giving way to a true bilingualism. As a third instance, Baker (2011) speaks of translanguaging as a facilitator of links between home and school through cooperation between both contexts, since the educational community can provide materials and support resources in the first or second language; it points to this as an aid to all members of the educational community, including parents, teachers, administrators and students, who can share the knowledge of the curriculum when the latter are school-level students. As a last advantage Baker (2011) indicates that translanguaging can help the integration of speakers who have a higher level of appropriation of the language with those who do not, in order to strengthen the languages through the creation of working groups in the classroom.

Creese and Blackledge (2010) also endorse the idea that translanguaging is a flexible bilingual pedagogy, especially for learning and teaching based on contextual perspectives, that is, one that establishes links between the social, cultural, community and linguistic domains that characterize to each of the students. In this case the authors add that the flexible bilingual pedagogy is of great importance, because it allows responding to the local needs of the context, strengthening the language of origin together with the language of instruction, both outside and inside the classroom.

Stathopoulou (2013a) considers Interlingua mediation as a practice of translanguaging. In his doctoral thesis, he distinguishes mediation based on the standards established in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), defined as “professional translation and interpretation”, of a mediation that must correspond to active participation in intercultural communicative events. The author, referring to the term translanguaging since the affirmation of Guerra (2004), relates it to literacy practices in different languages and dialects learned in different cultural contexts. Translanguaging, then, not only involves managing the linguistic repertoire of two languages (linguistic competence), but also being competent in the communicative management of languages (communicative competence). Stathopoulou (2013b) also indicates that translanguaging can be used with students of different levels of linguistic competence.

This is where two different contexts that serve as background are included, since they make use of translanguaging in the educational system and specific bilingual programs. Mr. Williams (2002) is retaken together with a work team that was part of the National Assembly of Wales at that time, generated a document that focused on the development of bilingualism through a skill called translanguaging. It is argued that this type of skill is used in everyday life and in turn can be part of the entire education system in which students are exposed to effectively change the language code from one language to another.

The skill called translanguaging according to the author offers wide possibilities in the development of two languages effectively, that is why for a person who is an active bilingual, translanguaging is defined in this aspect as a natural form of development and strengthening of two languages Simultaneously, at the same time it generates a deeper understanding of languages and the environment, but Williams (2002) in turn asserts that few teachers are willing to try to use two languages in a single class session through said ability.

In this point of view, teaching-learning languages should not be seen as the sole responsibility of the members that make up the educational entities (language teachers, managers, coordinators, students, among others) each teacher must be a language teacher, according to the statement given by the educational institutions of Wales, languages have a central role in the construction of knowledge, because, when learning to use any language whatsoever, it must focus on some stages, which Lemke (2001) calls how to re-name, describe, record, compare, explain, analyze, design, evaluate and theorize. This can be developed, if the educators are aware that each teacher, without discriminating the academic level, becomes a language teacher and has to be able to control the teaching process through situations that enrich and develop the languages.

Accordingly, a research group from the University of the City of New York known in North America as The City University of New York-New York State Initiative on Emergent Bilinguals (CELIC; SELTZER, 2011) and that will be named from now on their acronym CUNY-NYSIEB, they have generated a collaborative project with the Research Institute for the Study of Languages in urban society in 2011 that offers a guide for educators who focus especially on New York schools, located in the United States of America. It is important to clarify that the members of this project work focused on the translanguaging through a teaching guide where it is explained how translanguaging can help with the specific aspects in the investigation especially in the learning-teaching of the language.

With all that said, especially by the members of CUNY-NYSIEB they emphasize the Council of School Officials of the North American State (CCSSO), which is an entity that generates the basic academic standards for teaching in elementary and secondary schools, especially. The entity seeks to generate high quality in English categorized as the art of language and ELA literacy through learning objectives. These objectives describe what a student should know and be able to do at the end of each grade of primary and secondary school, through a regulation that ensures that all students achieve high school graduation with the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed both in the university and in the daily life, regardless of where they live or their origin. This regulation is governed for forty-three states of the District of Columbia consisting of four territories and the Department of Defense to the Educational Activity determined in its acronym in English as DoDEA, it is worth clarifying that this regulation has been voluntarily adopted by educational institutions that have Progress was made especially in the Basic Education Core as reported by the Common Core State Standards Initiative (2013).

Therefore, Celic and Seltzer (2011) who are members of the CUNY-NYSIEB project, within the teaching guide have not only included the aforementioned regulations but also include some sections where they explain the process step by step involving the strategies of translanguaging in practice, through examples of how teachers in their teaching practices use some strategies in their lessons and provide an academic context where these strategies can be applied. Undoubtedly, Celic (2012) considers that the translanguaging strategies are necessary because they allow generating a stepped learning that helps the bilingual students, but at the same time the author affirms that it is a way of promoting the bilingualism of the students when they use the language in its entirety as a learning resource. In addition, it can be seen through the development of thinking, social and attitudinal skills.

In fact, Witt (2012), who is one of the members of the CUNY-NYSIEB project, complements the idea through the evaluation rubrics, so that teachers can reflect on the frequency with which the translanguaging strategies are used and identify what their Strengths and weaknesses through gradual incorporation into schools and sessions taught within classrooms. This rubric has eleven (11) characteristics that teachers must take into account in their teaching practice, but in this project only those that are consistent with the unit of study will be selected. Taking as reference that they are purely qualitative characteristics where it allows teachers and specialists on educational policies to examine teaching practices, curricula, class lessons, among others. In short, the proposed guide goes beyond conceptualization and the educational needs of the context.

Now, it cannot be determined that the act of translanguaging develops only through the change of linguistic code, defined in English as code-switching and explained by Nilep (2006) as the practice of selection or alteration of linguistic elements in order to contextualize the talk within the interaction process. The same happens with another linguistic concept focused on language such as translation, defined by Crystal (1992) as the process or result of converting the expressions of one language to the expressions of another, in order that the meanings correspond to each other. While the change of linguistic code and translation are essentially linguistic concepts, the translanguaging goes further. Kano (2012) through her doctoral thesis conducts a study on translanguaging as a pedagogical process and tool for students who are learning to write in English within the context of New York, the author states that the study proposes a definition of translanguaging as a complex process that includes changes in the linguistic modes and also the change of the codes, in other words, the translanguaging implies the code change (code-switching), the translation, the language change (language-switching) and the combination of the three. This theory is developed because the results of the study showed that the translanguaging act that the students practiced included the previous concepts.

Materials and methods

This study is framed within the qualitative research approach, since it is based on a logic and an inductive process, that is to say that they go from the particular to the general, starting from an exploration and detailed description of the unit of study (the class of Spanish For foreigners) to generate a theoretical perspective on the subject of this research. The purpose of this is, as indicated by Hernández Sampieri, Fernández and Baptista (2010), in “rebuilding” a reality as observed by the participants in some classes framed in the basic level of Spanish for foreigners at Universidad Nacional de Colombia in Bogotá, educational context that has been previously defined.

This study is part of Boyle’s (in ÁLVAREZ-GAYOU; SAMPIERI; MENDOZA, 2008) approach to what educational ethnography is. The purpose of educational ethnography is to discover what happens daily in the context chosen for research, based on providing meaningful data in the most descriptive way possible, then interpret them and be able to better understand the phenomenon observed in that ecological niche, in this case the classrooms. Such data deal with the contexts in which the various interactions, activities, values, ideologies and expectations of all participants (teachers, students and even the researcher) in those determined school scenarios take place (TORRES, 1988).

This research method will allow the description of the elements that are framed within the social processes, which will be analysed in a functional way, thus giving an explanation of how certain parts of the culture and the educational system interrelate within a certain time And in specific situations, to finally be able to describe the learning and teaching of the Spanish that interests.

To achieve these objectives, it is necessary to frame the observation in four dimensions according to Goetz and Lecompte (1988): the first one is the inductive one, in which part of the data collection, through the observations of some classes with a Time period of seven (7) months and are taught by Colombian teachers within the campus of Universidad Nacional de Colombia, and theory is built on translational. Next is the generative dimension, centred on the discovery of constructs and propositions from various sources of evidence, which in this case will be the observational notes, records of the teaching activity, document files and artefacts discovered by the researcher in the classes during the period of observation. The constructive dimension is the third, where a classification and ordering of the data is developed, so that the constructs and categories of analysis can be generated. Finally, a subjective dimension will be taken into account in order to describe the cultural and behavioural patterns of the group investigated, with the final purpose of reconstructing the specific categories that the participants use for the conceptualization of translanguaging in Spanish.

In turn, this study takes as a reference the foreign students who attend at Universidad Nacional de Colombia, located Bogota, and take Spanish courses in person there. This university is a public higher education institution, in which foreign students have access to Spanish classes through the Extension program of the Department of Foreign Languages known as the DLE, the Department of Foreign Relations identified as DRE and also Through the Office of International Relations – ORI, all of them belonging to Bogota.

It is worth noting that Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Bogotá, has an approximate population of between 120 and 180 foreign students who are linked to these three different programs offered by the University, and their Spanish language ranges from basic, intermediate and advanced.

With all of the above, the author have identified that of the 180 foreign students, 80 of them were registered in the courses offered in total, but for the present study, data were used of three (3) teachers and twenty-two (22) foreign students attending Regular form to the courses offered since these courses were not obligatory nor did not generate a quantitative note in their academic reports, in addition all of them responded actively to a direct invitation based on the previous explanation of the purposes of the study. This unit of study has been selected because they meet the established criteria such as:

  • Active participation and constant stay in at least one of the courses selected for this research.

  • Acceptance of the signed consent on the part of the participants.

  • Foreign students whose mother tongue is different from Spanish.

  • Teachers directly linked to the National University of Colombia.

  • Teachers who have a work stay within the university for more than three (3) years.

The data were collected by means of direct observation that was recorded in a field diary, it was contemplated what happened within the context studied and the facts were recorded on the same one whose characteristic is the reduction of the interactions between the Researcher and unit of study. This allowed the study to focus attention, not instructively, but rather the possibility of generating analysis, prosody, kinetics and interaction. Goetz and Lecompte (1988, p.154) argue that the kinetic aspects are really useful “when the focus of research is on the use of classroom space or the patterns of teacher-student interaction”.

Semi-structured interviews were also carried out with the participants, these interviews were applied in the two groups of participants: the first one comprised five teachers in order to determine the actions or procedures that the teachers carried out to enhance the learning of the Spanish and the following group is for foreign students with the aim of describing the procedure they use to learn Spanish within a Colombian educational context.

Finally, documents (guides, workshops, etc.) used by the students in their process of learning Spanish were collected. These allow us to know sources of information that are very valuable within the research and to identify the antecedents of the context where the study is based on.

Results and discussion

In this study, each of the Departments from Universidad Nacional de Colombia, such as the DLE, DRE and ORI, will be described from this moment on, making use of the previously proposed acronyms (see Table 1). This in turn allows the number of sessions and hours of the observation record to be determined during the 7 months. It should be noted that when observing each of the classes have been recorded in the field diary and voice recordings of each of the sessions in order to complement information that has not been transcribed during the class observation.

Table 1 – Class Observation Record. 

Observation Class Record
Department Number of sections Number of hours
DRE 6 18
DEL 30 57
ORI 14 26
Total 50 101

Source: Classified by Departments from Universidad Nacional de Colombia.

In the same way, interviews were conducted randomly with foreign students, who in some cases were asked in English or Spanish so that they would feel comfortable and calm in answering each of the previously established questions, since the interview has four types of questions: eight (8) general, two (2) examples, two (2) structural and three (3) of contrast. For this reason the interview script was validated, which allowed some modifications in the contrast questions, since all interviewees had never previously had contact with Spanish. In the first eight (8) general questions it was identified that the participating students were enrolled in different programs of the University such as: Mechanical Engineering, Industrial Engineering, Architecture and Human Sciences, in addition several of them were of American origin United States), Asian (China) and European (Belgium, Germany, Netherlands and France) in turn commented that they had a stipulated period of time to remain in Colombia from six (6) months to one (1) year.

On the other hand, the students were questioned as to why they decided to study in Colombia, and among them they found different answers such as: some of them have a sentimental relationship with a Colombian / a, their parents have settled in the country, Universidad Nacional de Colombia has an international exchange program to conduct research stays between the National University and European Universities. Here it is evident that the human being establishes basic social contacts innately. As Harris (2007, p.19) puts it, social contact is framed in “the socially learned way of life found in human societies and encompassing all aspects of social life, including thought and behavior”.

In a second moment, I was able to show a total of 437 occasions in the classroom that correspond to the use and promotion of the student’s mother tongue, use of the language of instruction that corresponds to Spanish and finally use of English as a third language, everything I will describe it in a discriminatory way in the following sections.

In the use and promotion of mother tongue I found that there are 222 occasions of use of the mother tongue by the student and promotion of the same by the teacher, identifying that on six (6) occasions in the DRE students used German and The Russian turn the teacher towards a comparison of the pronunciation of the letters in German and French. On the other hand the DLE with a total of 215 occasions made use of both teachers and students of English, German, French, Russian, Italian, Flemish, Mandarin and Portuguese.

The previous data confirm the answers given by the students in the interview, since they assured that several of the teachers are very recursive in the moment of teaching, especially the foreign students confirmed that one of the teachers speaks many languages being one of the Main resources in the learning-teaching of Spanish because it allows the teacher to explain easily by emphasizing the languages of origin of foreign students. In addition, the guides that were delivered during the development of the classes serve as a complement to a specific topic and the annotations on the board in several languages in order to explain the complex words of a text and even games related to grammar and vocabulary allowed a connection between the language of instruction and the mother tongue.

Finally, in the ORI according to the data that I was able to register, it was evidenced that there were only 2 occasions in which the students made use of their native languages, in this case German and Korean. These data allow a comparison between classes according to the answers given by foreign students who have been able to enrol alternately in the three or two courses offered by the Departments from Universidad Nacional de Colombia as a free option in the learning process From Spanish to foreigners. For the great majority of foreign students who were in levels I and II of Spanish as a foreign language and who were also interviewed, they considered that it is necessary to have specific class lessons, systematized and that allow them to help to feel good learning Spanish in Colombia, on the contrary, make some recommendations and suggestions to one of the Spanish courses, since in the great majority they have decided to leave the classes given in that course since they felt uncomfortable because the basic level of Spanish in The ones they met and several of the proposed activities do not allow them to participate actively because they omit their native languages.

For a better understanding, a table has been designed (see Table 2) in which I have classified the information minutely, making use of some acronyms for clarity to the reader, described as follows:

Table 2 – Record of use of the mother tongue in the classes. 

Department English German French Russian Italian Flemish Chinesse Portuguese Korean TOTAL
DRE x x x 1 x 3 1 X x x x 1 x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x 6
DLE 11 24 10 10 21 12 4 10 5 6 8 6 5 12 7 4 3 7 7 10 9 5 13 6 x x x 215
ORI x x x x x 1 x X x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x 1 2
Total 11 24 10 11 21 15 5 10 5 6 8 7 5 12 7 4 3 7 7 10 9 5 13 6 x x 1 222

Source: Classified by Departments from Universidad Nacional de Colombia.

  • Teacher equivalents to T.

  • Student equivalents to S.

  • Both equivalents to B.

This last acronym allows show the number of occasions in which there was an interaction between the student (s) and the teacher in the moment of using or promoting the mother tongue of the students as the case may be. In turn, I have inserted in the table there is an x in order to indicate that no record was found according to the classification I have done.

As a second aspect, in the use of the language of instruction, I registered 132 occasions of which in the DRE has a total of 20 occasions in which the interaction in Spanish prevails between the student and the teacher, as for the DLE I identified 96 occasions In which also the interaction between the teacher and the student in Spanish. On the other hand, in the ORI, I recorded 16 occasions of which the use of Spanish as a language of instruction by the teacher and also by the student prevails in isolation (see Table 3).

Table 3 – Record of use of the language of instruction in the classes. 

Record of use of the language of instruction in the classes.
Department Spanish Total
DRE 11 3 6 20
DEL 45 19 32 96
ORI 2 7 7 16
Total 58 29 45 132

Source: Classified by agencies of the National University of Colombia.

Although opportunities for language use are not so frequent compared to the use and promotion of the foreign language of the mother tongue, the vast majority of them stated in the interview to the question whether they believe that their level of Spanish has improved since they arrived in Colombia stated that before they came they did not speak anything and in two months approximately that they are in the country and can understand what most Colombians speak, bearing in mind that it is a large percentage of Colombians in the country who do not speak another language fluently Outside their mother tongue because in the country for every ten citizens, one speaks perfectly the English language according to some information given by the Minister of Commerce, Industry and Tourism in Colombia (MinCiT, 2010).

In addition, students state that the Spanish courses offered by Universidad Nacional de Colombia have largely helped them not only because they are the first course they take within the country, but also because they consider that it is possible to learn Without having a solid foundation on Spanish, and some of them have had a great empathy with teachers because they consider that they make a huge attempt to include everyone in learning because several of them is not limited to correct from a “Is wrong” but explains the reasons and gives opportunities in the midst of correction. Many foreign students even consider it a space for them to ask questions about the correct use of grammar, to solve doubts about a concept, to practice with people who have the same level of knowledge of the language and to know others People of different nationalities.

Finally, in this study I managed to record the use of a third language within the classroom that both teachers and students had in common, that language was English. I found a total of 27 occasions of use, of which in the DRE is recognized 5 occasions of use, in the DLE with 15 and ORI with 7 occasions respectively. Apparently the teachers of each of the units use the Spanish in the process, but as a language bridge there is this third language, there is a great difference in the frequency of use between the languages of origin of the students and the language of instruction.

Table 4 – Record of use of English as a third language in classes. 

Record of use of English as a third language in classes
Department English Total
DRE 2 1 2 5
DEL 2 9 5 16
ORI 0 1 6 7
Total 4 11 13 28

Source: Classified by agencies of the National University of Colombia.

According to reports provided by the European Union and the British Council (2000) in the world there are three types of English speakers, the first of who speak English as a mother tongue whose population lives in a country where English is spoken as a first language, being the main means of communication. On the other hand, there are those who use English as a second language, Crystal (1997) reported that 377 million speakers of English as a second language have been calculated in countries where they determine that they should not only know their language of origin but Must also be competently communicative an additional language in this case English, evidenced in government plans and educational curricula in their countries.

As a third type there are people who use English as a foreign language, even though in their countries of origin they do not have foreign language policies as compulsory through the use of a language other than the mother tongue. Use of another language, although it has rapidly increased the number of people who are learning English especially in underdeveloped countries in their government policies still prevails the mother tongue as a source of information.


In this study it is evident that the vast majority of foreign students are from the group of people who learned English as a second language because there are a high percentage of students whose nationalities are different from the North American, British and / or Australian. As a result, participants confirmed in the answers given in the interviews that English is a required language in all classrooms at different academic levels (primary-secondary and university) in their countries of origin.

Accordingly, many times the communication between the foreign students attached to the programs without regard to nationality or accentuation was mediated by their mother tongues. Even one of the reasons why foreign students were motivated to learn Spanish in the different spaces offered by the University was because they consider that Spanish is the second language spoken in the world, and this allows them to communicate with Latin Americans not only In a formal way, but also informal when traveling to different places in South America, because today it is not enough to speak a single language or even two because they confirm that many colleagues and friends speak three to four languages.

In identifying the mother tongues of the students, the promotion of these languages by the teacher, the use of the language of instruction and the level of frequency, it is evident that the language is a fundamental tool that allows the internalization and practice of the community Learning.


I would like to express sincere gratitude to Dr. Claudia Lucia Ordoñez from Universidad Nacional de Colombia, for the commitment, advice, guidance and sharing his technical expertise in the completion of this research. I also would like to thank Dr. Antonio Salvador Jimenez for his advices, thanks to the whole departments at Universidad Nacional de Colombia for sharing the result and time of this research as basis in identifying the improvement of the existing processes of the foreign students who are part of the university programs in Bogota.


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Received: March 26, 2017; Accepted: September 04, 2017

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