Words that don’t translate: Investing in decolonizing practices through translanguaging


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4 Citations (Scopus)


Drawing on the pedagogical framework of critical multilingual language awareness, this article demonstrates how the production of a YouTube video explaining lexical gaps can help language learners construct a translanguaging space and invest in decolonizing practices. Based on a study examining the language and literacy practices of university students in Hong Kong, it explores how English majors enrolled in a communications course created three-minute videos explaining Cantonese words that do not have equivalent terms in English. By explaining these translational gaps, learners were able to not only reflect on their languages and cultures, but also articulate a cognitive and affective awareness of the way language works. They were able to initiate translanguaging practices that displaced the privileged position of English and enabled them to resist colonial ways of knowing. Learners reframed their identities as knowledgeable experts who had the authority to speak confidently about their L1, while the non-Cantonese speaking instructor became learner and listener. By reconfiguring relations of power, learners were able to initiate and invest in decolonizing practices that asserted their identities as legitimate, multilingual speakers and enabled them to claim the right to speak. Copyright © 2023 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)645-661
JournalLanguage Awareness
Issue number4
Early online dateJul 2023
Publication statusPublished - 2023


Darvin, R., & Zhang, Y. (2023). Words that don’t translate: Investing in decolonizing practices through translanguaging. Language Awareness, 32(4), 645-661. https://doi.org/10.1080/09658416.2023.2238595


  • Critical multilingual awareness
  • Translanguaging
  • Decolonization
  • Identity
  • Investment


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