The Role of Translanguaging in Learning Culturemes

Evgeniia Iurinok, Universitat Pompeu Fabra

10:20 am – 10:50 am (Room 232)


Learning a new language always means learning a new culture, which consists of various
culturemes or culture-bearing units. Since ‘understanding culturemes supposes acquiring new
knowledge of and insights into the target language’ (Nicolae, 2015, p. 217), learning culturemes
might be a challenge for language learners and result in misunderstandings due to incomplete or distorted pre-information provided about culturemes. Thus, a practical dilemma arises
concerning the introduction of culturemes in a language classroom, especially if the target
language is typologically distant to the languages that learners have in their linguistic repertoires. Is it possible to draw on linguistic and cultural features that learners acquired in languages learned previously by opening a translanguaging space where cultural knowledge is constructed in various languages that naturally emerge?

This study, which is part of a PhD project, explores what translingual practices are deployed in a Russian language classroom in order to construct cultural knowledge. One teacher and two
groups of adult learners taking the B1 course in one language school in Catalonia took part in the study. Based on classroom observations made from October 2021 to February 2022, the
preliminary results show that translanguaging is indeed used as a method to construct a base for the understanding of Russian culturemes through practices such as translation, explication and humour. Apart from Russian, the learners and the teacher draw primarily on the Catalan and Spanish languages when discussing Russian cultural heritage including festivals, customs,
norms, everyday lifestyle, etc. For example, when discussing the Russian exclamation ‘Охо!’
[‘Aha!’], used to express surprise, one of the students pointed to his eye and uttered the Spanish expression ‘ojo’ [‘watch out’, literally ‘eye’], which sounds like the Russian exclamation. In later classes, students referred back to this instance. Thus, translanguaging emerged in the humorous form of language play and served for learning a new cultureme. The results obtained in this study can be useful for developing theoretical and practical foundations for introducing translanguaging as a practice in culture learning and teaching, a practice hardly explored in research.