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Vernacular Spanish as a promoter of critical consciousness in dual language bilingual education classrooms

Pages 1516-1529 | Received 25 Nov 2019, Accepted 13 May 2020, Published online: 05 Jun 2020


Historically, Spanish-speaking students have not been allowed to use their home and community linguistic practices in their schooling in the U.S., even in most Spanish-English dual language bilingual education (DLBE) programs, which require standard Spanish with strict language separation policies. These pedagogical practices have led to the reproduction of deficit language ideologies in DLBE classrooms that may harm students. In this essay, we call for programs to adopt vernacular forms of Spanish, including translanguaging practices, in bilingual and biliteracy instruction in order to meet the needs of Spanish-speaking students and combat deficit language ideologies and practices. From a critical pedagogical perspective, deliberate inclusion of vernacular Spanish (and translanguaging) in bilingualism and biliteracy is an ideal means to develop critical consciousness for students in DLBE, which can serve to combat deficit language ideologies, and aligns to the proposal of critical consciousness as the fourth goal of DLBE. We offer recommendations for teacher educators and DLBE practitioners.

So, if you want to really hurt me, talk badly about my language.

Gloria Anzaldúa (Citation1987, 59)

Ms. Smith is walking from table to table observing how her students discuss the water cycle during Spanish time in a traditional dual language bilingual education (DLBE) program. She stops to listen to Lupe, a Chicana student.

Lupe: SoFootnote1 cuando el agua en las nubes se friza, me pongo mi casaca, y caen munchos snowflakes. Y luego ya cuando está muy muy hot otra vez goes all the way to the clouds and that’s how … 

Ms. Smith: Lupe, así no se habla. Te lo recuerdo una vez más. No se dice casaca y en la hora de español no hablamos inglés y en la hora de inglés no hablamos español. ¡Repite ahora mismo todo una vez más correctamente como te he enseñado!

Translation to standard English:

Lupe: So when the water in the clouds freezes, I put on my coat, and many snowflakes fall down. And then when it’s very very hot it goes again all the way to the clouds and that’s how … .

Ms. Smith: Lupe, we don’t speak like that. I’ll remind you once again. We don’t say casaca or muncho and during Spanish time we don’t speak English, and in English time we don’t speak Spanish. Repeat everything once again correctly like I have taught you!

In this hypothetical classroom teacher-student exchange Lupe shows she is engaged academically. Like the many students Lupe represents, she uses vernacular Spanish and translanguages when discussing the water cycle with her peers.

Lupe is meeting the lesson objective, which is showing understanding of the water cycle by discussing it with colleagues. However, despite Lupe’s language demonstrating that she is academically engaged, the teacher does not celebrate the academic content of Lupe’s discourse or her participation. Rather the teacher decides to interrupt the student to correct her vernacular and stop her from translanguaging. The teachers’ words así no se habla (we don’t speak like that) and her emphasis on the need to repeat everything correctamente (correctly) diminishes and marginalizes Lupe, as well as the everyday language she speaks, along with many other students and members of language-minoritized communities. As shown with the introductory statement by Anzaldúa, discourse behavior like Ms. Smith’s can be hurtful.

Unfortunately, this type of deficit discourse, and subsequent risk to young bilingual students is prevalent in DLBE – a form of bilingual education that is becoming popular and increasing rapidly rate across the U.S. The three traditional goals of DLBE education are academic achievement, bilingualism/biliteracy, and sociocultural competence (Howard et al. Citation2018). DLBE programs tend to start in kindergarten or first grade and continue across grade levels for a minimum of five years. From 50% to 100% of the instruction time is provided in the partner language, most often Spanish in the U.S., which is the language focus in this article. This work focuses on Spanish-English DLBE programs that include Spanish-speaking students, such as two-way immersion programs (with a balanced number of Spanish-speaking and English-speaking students) and developmental bilingual education programs in which all students speak the partner language and are emergent bilinguals/English learners (Howard et al. Citation2018).

In contrast to other bilingual education programs, DLBE stated view of the partner language is as a resource (Ruiz Citation1984). But in practice, fidelity to standard Spanish in traditional DLBE causes teachers like Ms. Smith to label vernacular Spanish practices as deficits and translanguaging as something to be fixed. To these teachers the partner language is a resource, as long as it’s the ‘right kind’ of language – a standard form derived from the privileging of the language typically spoken by richer, white, native-Spanish-speakers. We assert that it is crucial to examine this deficit language ideology hidden in the DLBE classrooms and enact pedagogies that explicitly include and value the languages spoken in the students’ homes and communities – including translanguaging and other forms of vernacular Spanish.

Our advocacy of vernacular Spanish does not exclude the need of learning and mastering standard Spanish in DLBE. Our position is that in the process of learning standard Spanish, students should also be given the opportunity to benefit from instruction that includes vernacular Spanish based on the real-life contexts and communicative needs of the various speech communities and discourses in which they live. We perceive the exclusion of vernacular Spanish, and translanguaging, from the DLBE classroom to be a form of linguicism: ideologies, structures, and practices that marginalize certain populations from resources and power, based on their linguistic practices (Skutnabb-Kangas Citation2000). Unless deliberately revealed and properly combatted, these deficit language ideologies and practices will likely continue to promote the language subordination and marginalization of vernacular Spanish speakers (Darder Citation2012).

Drawing on Paulo Freire’s (Citation2005) notion of an emancipatory education, which refers to the need to not only read the word but also the world (societal and students’ own histories, experiences, and issues related to discrimination and injustice), we assert that deliberately including vernacular Spanish in DLBE allows all students to co-create knowledge, including linguistic knowledge, in their classrooms. Incorporating students’ vernacular and translanguaging practices into the classroom discourse for social and pedagogical purposes (Sayer Citation2008, Citation2013) specifically combats the hidden deficit language ideologies and practices that prevail in many discourses in DLBE programs as illustrated in the vignette introducing this article. Students may come to understand language hierarchies in society and develop critical consciousness, while every student’s true ‘native’ language is accepted and included, rather than marginalized or treated as deficient in some way.

This essay begins by discussing vernacular Spanish, and introducing translanguaging as a form of vernacular language, then discusses deficit ideologies and policies often applied to use of vernacular Spanish and translanguaging. In contrast to these deficit views, we then argue for using vernacular Spanish and translanguaging as crucial elements of a transformational DLBE framework. This framework proposes critical consciousness as a fourth goal of DLBE education (Freire Citation2014, Citation2020), in addition to the first three stated goals of academic achievement, bilingualism/ biliteracy, and sociocultural competence (Howard et al. Citation2018). Within a transformational DLBE framework, these programs have the potential to be social justice bastions against linguistic discrimination in the classroom. Finally, we present recommendations for teacher educators and practitioners in DLBE who wish to teach within a transformational DLBE framework and who seek to combat deficit language ideologies and practices in their classrooms.

Vernacular Spanish

From a sociolinguistic viewpoint, language may be viewed as social practices embedded in everyday interactivity (Pennycook Citation2010), and enacted across a variety of contexts (LePage Citation1997; Sayer Citation2013). We define a vernacular language as the everyday linguistic practices of a speech community, in contrast to a standard language, which is the language associated with a nation-state, country, a government, or other institution of power (LePage Citation1997). Vernacular Spanish can include any language variation, dialect, or archaic form, often based in country and regional differences, class differences, and/or registers of language in any given context (Sayer Citation2013). For example, muncho is an archaic form of Spanish that, as a vernacular, is still common in places such as some areas of rural Spain, Mexico, and New Mexico (Pato Citation2013; Wilson Citation2015)

Vernacular is different than idiolects and/or language mistakes, errors, or what some recent scholarship in linguistics has referred to as ‘linguistic incompleteness’ (Benmamoun, Montrul, and Polinsky Citation2013; Silva-Corvalán Citation2018). Idiolects refer to the specific linguistic idiomacies of an individual, which might include or differ to varying degrees from the vernacular used in a given community, region, or country. Idiolects do not necessarily relate to grammatical rules or other language conventions. Linguistic incompleteness is a contested term (Otheguy Citation2016; Silva-Corvalán Citation2018) that more closely approximates the notion of a linguistic ‘mistake’, and raises important questions about who determines the correct forms of language for standard, vernacular or even idiomatic expressions of language. We acknowledge that students sometimes use language in the classroom that may be unintended deviations from a vernacular or a standard language, such as ‘rompido’ for ‘roto’ (broken), or ‘no sabo’ for ‘no sé’ (I don’t know). Instead of reinforcing deficit views of children’s Spanish learning process with negative markers, we view these language practices from an explicitly asset-based perspective, where they may be considered as standard language deviations that progress differently due to language contact (Otheguy Citation2016, 303), rather than incomplete (or as an error). This different approach to vernacular language practices can more fully reveal to the teacher the linguistic repertoires and practices of their students.

Borderlands scholar Gloria Anzaldúa (Citation1987) has pointed out the multiplicities of linguistic forms practiced among Spanish-speaking communities throughout the United States, noting that ‘Chicanos, after 250 years of Spanish/Anglo colonization, have developed significant differences in the Spanish we speak’ (57). She asserted:

For some of us, language is a homeland closer than the Southwest – for many Chicanos today live in the Midwest and the East. … we speak:

  1. Standard English

  2. Working class and slang English

  3. Standard Spanish

  4. Standard Mexican Spanish

  5. North Mexican Spanish dialect

  6. Chicano Spanish (Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California have regional variations)

  7. Tex-Mex

  8. Pachuco (called caló). (77)

Anzaldúa’s list is just one example of the kinds of linguistic forms spoken within Spanish-speaking communities in the United States. Anzaldúa also pointed out the psychological borderland that Spanish speakers inhabit, no matter where they live within the United States.

Due to ongoing immigration, the United States is home to Spanish speakers from various Spanish-speaking countries, each with their own version and variety of the Spanish language. For example, for the word jacket, we have heard Spanish varieties such as chaqueta, chamarra, campera, casaca, and chompa. Different varieties of Spanish spoken by people from various nations include regional dialects and social class markers indexed in vernacular forms, as well as translanguaging practices that emerge as speakers negotiate the many spaces and borders of their lived experiences. At times these versions and varieties are deemed non-standard, based largely on hegemonic language practices that privilege the Spanish language spoken by the majority of speakers in Spain, stigmatizing vernacular Spanish even in some Spanish-speaking communities.

Many Spanish speakers bring their vernacular to the classroom with them as they enter the U.S. public school system. Alfaro and Bartolomé (Citation2017) shared an illustrative example of marginalization of that vernacular in a DLBE classroom. A student says the word menear [to wiggle] for ‘mixing.’ The teacher corrects the student emphasizing that ‘menear’ is a gross word and that the correct word is mezclar [to mix]. McCollum (Citation1999) contributed an example of a teacher correcting a student for using the word ‘asina,’ the archaic rural form of the Spanish term así [in this manner]. In both instances, the teacher correcting the students’ vernacular sent the message that the language used in their homes, families, and communities was not welcome (or even recognized) in the sphere of schooling. This deficit-based pedagogy, even if it is with good intentions, negatively impacts students as well as marginalizes and disenfranchises minoritized students from the institutions of privilege and power in the United States.

Anzaldúa (Citation1987) rightly positioned Spanish-speaking students’ multiple language practices as assets. Many of these students are skillful in making appropriate linguistic choices in adjusting their language according to multiple contexts and individuals (Fuller Citation2007). Within the DLBE classroom, Spanish-speaking students’ languages are presumably recognized, yet vernacular Spanish and translanguaging practices are often overlooked or forbidden.


The concept of translanguaging was coined in 1994 by Welsh professor and researcher Cen Williams and was introduced to the United States by Ofelia García. García (Citation2009) conceptualized translanguaging by presupposing language as a verb: people do not have language, rather they do language; that is languaging. Translanguaging reflects dynamic language practices used to negotiate and navigate local contexts and communities in which speakers live, work, and study. This conceptualization of translanguaging, which considers students’ daily languages as an asset, has influenced and changed traditional concepts and pedagogies in the field of bilingual education (García and Sylvan Citation2011), allowing for students to draw on all of their linguistic resources while reading, writing, listening, and speaking (García Citation2009).

Language mixing that includes two or more named languages, including between different varieties of one language, may also be referred to as translanguaging (García Citation2009). In the United States, all non-English languages are in contact with English, which illustrates the notion of language contact. When languages are in contact and interact, multilingual speakers draw from their own linguistic repertoire to use language appropriately according to context, and translanguaging practices emerge: ‘the complex languaging practices of actual bilinguals in communicative settings’ (García Citation2009, 45). Thus, translanguaging is not necessarily limited to the mixing of two standard languages, as it can include linguistic crossing across non-standard forms of language as well – however, it is, by definition, a non standard language practice and falls under the definition of vernacular language use.

As the communicative norm in multilingual communities, translanguaging includes ‘multiple discursive practices as seen from the perspective of speakers themselves’ and connotes an integrated system that includes discursive practices that cannot be classified as code in any standard language (García and Sylvan Citation2011, 389). Although at times individuals may ‘borrow’ lexical items from ‘standard forms’ of language, translanguaging often also includes non-standard words or lexical items that emerge from linguistic practices of local contexts. For example, common vernacular terms used in translanguaging by Spanish speakers in the U.S. are lonche [lunch] for almuerzo, and puchar [push] for empujar – lexical items which are neither standard Spanish nor standard English.

Translanguaging is categorized as vernacular since its ‘starting point [is] the language practices of bilingual people as the norm, and not the language of monolinguals’ (García Citation2012, 1). For example, the vernacular terms lonche and puchar have emerged from the social context of Spanish speakers in the U.S. where using these words makes sense from a perspective of linguistic economy. These types of vernacular terms facilitate communication in legitimate and linguistically astute ways, especially when considered from a bilingual perspective. Thus, these discursive practices constitute a vernacular discourse move. This conceptualization of translanguaging is based on recognizing actual languaging practiced in the various communities of Spanish speakers in the United States, including differences in region, country of origin, and social class.

Translanguaging is different in important ways from the language practices typically described as Spanglish: language mixing conceptualized as borrowing, code-switching between and within sentences, and grammatical interchanges that occur between bilinguals. Epistemologically, the notion of Spanglish is invoked from a monoglossic perspective (García and Kleyn Citation2016; Sayer Citation2008), which treats monolingualism as the norm and views language from an external perspective that ‘takes into account two named languages that are said to constitute two linguistic systems’ (García and Kleyn Citation2016, 12). Translanguaging, in contrast, views students’ multiple languages as a whole, from a dynamic perspective, which refers to ‘the repertoire of bilingual language practices that can only emerge and expand in interrelationship with each other and through practice and socialization’ (García Citation2012, 4). Thus, dynamic bilingualism points to the complexity of the language practices of language-minoritized speakers and values their ability to adapt to the communicative situation of the particular moment.

Deficit ideologies of vernacular Spanish and translanguaging

The term language ideologies refers to beliefs about language and language use (Kroskrity Citation2004; Martínez, Hikida, and Durán Citation2015) that affect how language speakers are positioned in schools and society. Never neutral, these ideologies are political and can inform and contest or reproduce inequities and hierarchical orders. Deficit language ideologies, which posit translanguaging and other vernacular practices as deficits or linguistic shortcomings can be enacted in subtle or more blatant behavior. Valencia (Citation2010) noted damaging implications:

The deficit thinking model, at its core, is an endogenous theory – positing that the student who fails in school does so because of his/her internal deficits or deficiencies. Such deficits manifest, adherents allege, in limited intellectual abilities, linguistic shortcomings, lack of motivation to learn, and immoral behavior. (6-7)

Flores and Rosa (Citation2015) explained how language-minoritized speakers are racialized in ways that perpetuate deficit language ideologies. Racializing language ideologies, or raciolinguistic ideologies, involve judgment of racialized individuals for the ways they engage (or don’t engage) in what is labeled ‘appropriate academic discourse,’ portraying vernacular Spanish and translanguaging as deficit usage.

Challenging raciolinguistic ideologies requires understanding the inherent power differences between the listening subject and the speaking subject in any given sociolinguistic interaction (Flores and Rosa Citation2015). The listening subject, typically a member of the majority culture, is not required to take the perspective of the speaking subject, typically a member of a racially and linguistically minoritized group. Thus, the speaking subject is consistently subject to accommodating the listening subjects’ linguistic expectations (of standard language), regularly subjugating their own language practices (often vernacular language), while similar accommodations are never expected on behalf of the listening subject (Flores and Rosa Citation2015).

Anzaldúa (Citation1987) beautifully captured how vernacular Spanish-speaking subjects in the U.S experience these deficit raciolinguistic ideologies held by the listening subjects.

Deslenguadas. Somos los del español deficiente. We are your linguistic nightmare, your linguistic aberration, your linguistic mestizaje, the subject of your burla. Because we speak with tongues of fire we are culturally crucified. Racially, culturally and linguistically somos huérfanos – we speak an orphan tongue. (58)

These words portray the hegemonic impact of these raciolinguistic deficit ideologies toward vernacular Spanish, including translanguaging, on racial and linguistic minoritized groups as their language practices are considered to be less valuable and subject to discrimination.

The prestige of a variety of a language is most often directly correlated to the prestige of the group speaking it (Potowski and Shin Citation2019). In reality, ‘standard’ forms of languages are merely a social construct – much like race is a social construct. A standard form is one of the many varieties of a language that receives more attention, recognition, and validation than other varieties. This is due, as Potowski and Shin (Citation2019) asserted, to the overall power structure of the communities in which languages are used. For example, standard forms of Spanish, like the standardized Spanish spoken in Spain that also marginalizes Spanish varieties within its own country, have been elevated. Zentella (Citation2009) remarked:

The myth that ‘the only real Spanish is spoken in Spain’ is widely propagated, even by language teachers and others who would never dare claim that ‘the only real English is spoken in England.’ Such a myth ignores the extent of dialectal diversity that exists in Spain and dismisses and disrespects 90 percent of the world’s Spanish speakers’ (323).

The well-propagated myth that maintains that the real Spanish revolves around Spain and the positionality of this language variety as the global standard Spanish is fostered by the promotion and funding of two powerful institutions: the Real Academia Española de la Lengua and the Instituto Cervantes, supported by the Spanish Government (Mar-Molinero Citation2008). This language ideology continues, although the two institutions claim they are committed to the the multiple varieties of Spanish across the world (Mar-Molinero Citation2008). These governmental and institutional efforts elevate Spanish from Spain while marginalizing other Spanish varieties, vernaculars, and translanguaging, along with Spanish variations in the United States.

Historically, the educational system in the U.S. has marginalized Spanish language use in clasrooms by repressing it and oppressing its speakers with various types of punishment, including corporal punishment (MacGregor-Mendoza Citation2000). These school practices have perpetuated deficit language ideologies toward Spanish in schools and society. The subtext has been to position minoritized language practices as ‘linguistic shortcomings’ and reifying the normalization of the marginalization of Spanish-speaking students.

Deficit language ideologies and practices in DLBE

Linguistic repression is ongoing and prevalent for vernacular Spanish speakers in the classroom, even in DLBE programs. The marginalization of students’ vernacular language positions DLBE as a colonial enterprise in which the listening subject (members of the majority culture/language) is not expected to be familiar with or learn vernacular Spanish whereas the speaking subject is systematically silenced due to her non-standard language practices. The end result for emergent bilingual students is that when they attend these programs, they suddenly find themselves marginalized when they ‘do’ their own language – based on the language practices of their families and communities – not only because they don’t speak English, but because they also don’t speak the ‘right kind’ of Spanish. Despite deficit views of vernacular Spanish, it is important to emphasize that the home language practices of language-minoritized children are legitimate, appropriate, and conventional given the speech community in which they live (Rolstad Citation2014), as speakers of vernacular Spanish engage in linguistic practices that are based on the language convention governing rules within their homes and communities. This position (or language ideology) stands in contrast to the sometimes subtle deficit thinking found in many DLBE programs regarding home language practices, vernaculars, and translanguaging.

Most DLBE programs ‘have been built on standardized versions of named national languages rather than on the idiolects that bilingual children bring into classrooms’ (Otheguy, García, and Reid Citation2015, 302), which discriminates against vernacular languages and promotes deficit language ideologies at the institutional level. A body of literature reveals deficit language ideologies and practices pointing to the rejection of vernacular Spanish in the DLBE classroom (Alfaro and Bartolomé Citation2017; Flores and Rosa Citation2015; García Citation2009; McCollum Citation1999; Pérez Citation2004). These deficit ideologies of vernacular Spanish are, unfortunately, widespread among white and bilingual Latina/o pre-service teachers (Ek, Sánchez, and Quijada Cerecer Citation2013; Martínez, Hikida, and Durán Citation2015). Many DLBE teachers believe that local vernacular Spanish interferes with students’ learning of academic Spanish and that enabling it in the classroom should be avoided (Martínez, Hikida, and Durán Citation2015; McCollum Citation1999).

Languagelessness in the DLBE classroom

One prevalent deficit ideology in DLBE is languagelessness. Drawing on racialized ideologies Rosa (Citation2016) defines it as the notion that students who aren’t fluent in the standard language forms of the school have no real language at all, when they are in effect linguistic experts in the language practices of their communities. This deficit label is applied widely to children from language-minoritized groups, stigmatizing ‘particular linguistic practices perceived as deviating from prescriptive norms … call[ing] into question linguistic competence and, by extension, legitimate personhood– altogether’ (163). Languagelessness, as an ideology, positions vernacular Spanish speakers as at risk of academic failure and further marginalizes them as legitimate learners in the classroom. Instructional practices fostered by a languagelesness ideology can develop internalized oppression in language minoritized students, as these practices denigrade, marginalize, and prohibit vernacular Spanish and translanguaging home practices in the classroom.

When I (J. Freire) was a Spanish DLBE teacher, I was instructed to consider students’ translanguaging practices as indicating that the students had no fully developed language system. Standard Spanish linguistic purism was considered the only acceptable outcome, excluding any Spanish variation from traditional literature and school textbooks. I was instructed not to acknowledge or encourage use of any form of vernacular Spanish or translanguaging. However, these policies promoted languagelessness by delegitimizing the common local language practices in student homes and communities.

A common deficit practice promoting languagelessness found in DLBE classrooms is for teachers to use large poster papers hung walls with two columns describing what languages are legitimate or illegitimate at school. Typically, one column is reserved for home and community language with vernacular terms, and the other column is reserved for academic language with the corresponding standard-equivalent terms. Some examples of these words might include onde [where] (in vernacular Spanish) for donde (in standard Spanish), and muncho [much] for mucho. These poster papers can also include borrowings, such as picar [pick] for escoger, and puchar [push] for empujar.

Instead of discriminating against home and community language practices, we argue that all the terms in both columns need to be legitimized for both social and academic purposes in the classroom. The columns escuela and casa, which denotes separation and illegitimacy for non-standard forms, could be named estándar [standard] and vernacular, or formal and informal. Explicit instruction, such as this, legitimizes both forms of language, while also empowering students to negotiate the speech communities in their lives, including the discourses of power that they need to access. It sends the message that students are welcome and expected to participate in all spaces with their full linguistic repertoire. This pedagogical approach of inclusiveness further increases metacognitive and metalinguistic awareness in vernacular and standard Spanish.

Language separation policy in DLBE

One of the most prevalent language-restrictive-pedagogical practices is strict separation of language use in DLBE classrooms. This policy dictates teachers, students, and sometimes other school community members that Spanish is only to be spoken during ‘Spanish time’ and English is to be spoken during ‘English time’ throughout the day, disallowing any vernacular Spanish forms or translanguaging during either time. The language separation policy has been considered a non-negotiable in DLBE programs and classrooms. However, this practice is contrary to the authentic language practice of most Spanish speakers in the U.S., thus many Spanish-speaking students encounter contradictions in their DLBE experience.

Most of the increasing number of DLBE programs in the last 50 years have adopted this strict language separation policy (Otheguy, García, and Reid Citation2015). A well-intentioned reason for supporting the language separation policy is to prevent English, as the dominant language in schools and society, to take over Spanish in the program. However, Otheguy, García, and Reid (Citation2015) assert that for minoritized languages ‘growth cannot take place when we isolate them from the interactions of authentic speakers whose idiolectal repertoires hold much more than what the schools are willing to license’ (302).

The language separation policy has also been purported to raise the prestige of Spanish in the DLBE classroom and school. However, the increased prestige is limited to standard Spanish forms. Sayer (Citation2013) argued that ‘pedagogies based on language separation often marginalize vernaculars and do not reflect or take advantage of the sociolinguistic reality and symbolic competence of emergent bilingual students’ (86). The language separation ideology is based on a monoglossic perspective contrary to the linguistic reality of many Spanish-speaking students, which precludes them from developing their full linguistic repertoire.

The strict language separation policy needs to be eliminated along with the deficit language ideology targeting vernacular Spanish. Spanish-speaking students need to know how to use formal and informal terms in their communities, so they can continue to navigate, negotiate and communicate with the important communities and people in their lives. We have observed that DLBE students who do not know vernacular Spanish terms important to them (i.e. chido/chévere/guay – cool in English) they opt to use English terms, further undermining the bilingual goal of DLBE and further fostering English hegemony. While we celebrate their capability to translanguage, this tendency shows that a language separation policy is not going to protect, grow, or raise the prestige of Spanish unless DLBE teachers legitimize and use vernacular Spanish in the classroom.

To be clear, although we oppose the strict language separation policy, we do not oppose a strategic language separation policy with times dedicated for Spanish instruction and for English instruction. However, we see the strict language separation policies that exclude translanguaging as deficit-driven, linguicist, unnatural, counterproductive, and oppressive for Spanish speakers and emergent bilinguals – and ultimately counterproductive to the stated academic, linguistic, and cultural goals of all DLBE programs. We join other scholars who oppose this restrictive language policy (Cervantes-Soon et al. Citation2017; Cummins Citation2014; García and Sylvan Citation2011; Lee, Hill-Bonnet, and Raley Citation2008; Martínez, Hikida, and Durán Citation2015; Otheguy, García, and Reid Citation2015; Sayer Citation2013).

Vernacular as Promoter of critical consciousness

DLBE education is recognized as effective in promoting the traditional goals of academic achievement, bilingualism/biliteracy, and sociocultural competence (Howard et al. Citation2018). Although DLBE research shows that language-minoritized students do well in testing and show impressive bilingualism and biliteracy (Collier and Thomas Citation2017; Lindholm-Leary Citation2016), we question the degree we can call DLBE truly effective and applaud the level at which these linguistic goals are being met when a majority of DLBE programs reject students’ linguistic repertoire of vernacular Spanish and translanguaging practices. We ask for whose benefit is bilingualism and biliteracy in DLBE, and at what cost to the minoritized students in these classrooms. Guadalupe Valdés (Citation1997) classic cautionary note urges us to questioning who the student beneficiaries are in the DLBE classroom as a critical element towards equity.

The transformational DLBE framework (Freire Citation2014, Citation2020) adds critical consciousness as a fourth goal of DLBE. The incorporation of the fourth principle of critical consciousness has been espoused and discussed in recent literature (Freire Citation2016, Citation2020; Cervantes-Soon et al. Citation2017; Palmer et al. Citation2019). The four goals in the transformational DLBE framework – academic achievement, bilingualism/biliteracy, biculturalism, and critical consciousness– are integrative, fluid, and interactive with each other (Freire Citation2014, Citation2020). The fourth goal of DLBE draws on Paulo Freire’s (Citation2005) notion of critical consciousness, which helps individuals develop a deep understanding of their sociopolitical contexts, realities, and positioning in the world. P. Freire asserts that critical consciousness helps individuals learn ‘to perceive social, political, and economic contradictions, and to take action against the oppressive elements of reality’ (35). Critical consciousness demands activism; making efforts to include and normalize the use of vernacular Spanish and translanguaging in DLBE is necessary.

Unfortunately, traditional views of bilingualism and biliteracy promote language learning void of critical consciousness. The incorporation of vernacular Spanish and translanguaging can open avenues and strengthen the principle of critical consciousness, while attending to the goals of bilingualism/biliteracy. As a site of contestation, DLBE needs to promote social justice pedagogical practices. It is antithetical to the promotion of critical consciousness, liberation, and the stated emancipatory intent of DLBE for students not to be able to draw on their everyday language practices in the classroom. With the incorporation of vernacular Spanish and translanguaging, DLBE teachers can address hierarchical language inequities and highlight the hegemonic effects of language standardization on language-minoritized students in schools and society, which can help students understand issues related to language democracy, linguicism, and language oppression.

García and Leiva (Citation2014) assert that translanguaging specifically ‘has the potential to crack the ‘standard language’ bubble in education that continues to ostracize many bilingual students, and most especially immigrants’ (215). Cracking the standard language bubble allows students to engage in critical thinking around the institutions of power related to language use and to reject deficit notions related to their personhoods. Incorporating vernacular Spanish and translanguaging can be a healing process for those who have been oppressed, such as those who have been constantly corrected in their schooling or labeled with terms such as ‘pochos’ (a Mexican derogatory term for Mexicans and Mexican Americans who lack fluency in Spanish), ‘alingual,’ and ‘children with no language.’ Critical awareness and consciousness concerning language helps Spanish speakers critique, challenge, and change such deficit narratives for themselves and hopefully for others in their homes and communities. Critical consciousness also provides students anti-hegemonic tools against the artificial dominant ideology that standard Spanish and that the standardized Spanish from Spain is superior by nature.

In addition to promoting critical consciousness, vernacular Spanish and translanguaging promote the sociocultural goal of DLBE. Traditional approaches to bilingualism treat language as separate from the speaker, which disconnects language from culture and thus language practices from sociocultural practices. Traditional views of bilingualism and biliteracy in DLBE actually undermine the important goal of biculturalism or sociocultural competence (Freire Citation2014, Citation2020) as they often under represent the connection between language and identity as an important aspect of biculturalism for language-minoritized speakers (Feinauer and Howard, Citation2014). As language, culture, and identity are inherently interconnected, one cannot claim that different groups of students are truly empowered to develop sociocultural competence, cross-cultural awareness, or biculturalism when their own culture and language practices are silenced, rejected, and forbidden.

Translanguaging pedagogies call for a multilingual perspective characterized by translingual teaching and learning that challenges dominant linguistic purist ideologies that have become synonymous with language and teaching quality (Martínez, Hikida, and Durán Citation2015). We assert that DLBE teachers are uniquely positioned to assume the responsibility for facilitating the development of critical consciousness for their students in their classrooms.

Recommendations for teacher educators and practitioners in DLBE

The first step in supporting the use of vernacular Spanish (including translanguaging) to promote critical consciousness in DLBE classrooms is for educators to examine their own linguistic biases and deficit language ideologies (Alfaro and Bartolomé Citation2017). Teacher educators can do this by requiring pre-service teachers and educators with whom they work to understand and ‘deconstruct the historical devaluation of Spanish’ (Delgado Bernal Citation1998, 562) and how Spanish speakers in the U.S. have been treated in schools and society (MacGregor-Mendoza Citation2000). Teacher educators need to model this kind of critical self-evaluation in their courses and in the required field experiences.

Teacher educators and DLBE teachers’ self-analysis need to include how to value the multiple language varieties in the schools and how to understand DLBE from a more holistic perspective inclusive of students’ everyday language practices. We have observed that many U.S. teachers who have learned Spanish as a second language from a monoglossic perspective and many Spanish-speaking international teachers who have been taught English from a monoglossic perspective tend to embrace deficit language ideologies more readily, regarding vernacular Spanish and translanguaging. Thus these teachers tend to hold languagelessness ideologies, consider their students’ vernaculars as linguistic shortcomings, and are more likely to implement the language separation policy. Teacher educators and teacher education programs can counteract this tendency, by explicitly promoting critical consciousness for educational equity, acknowledging students’ languages as assets. Teacher education programs can require courses that focus on dynamic language perspectives and model asset-based perspectives for students’ home and community language practices.

In practice, spaces need to be created for the use of vernacular Spanish and translanguaging in various areas in schools. Teacher educators can require their pre-service teachers to carefully observe the linguistic practices in various school spaces during their field experiences and practice. Student linguistic practices—in their varieties—should be legitimized outside the classroom, such as during recess, lunch, and in the halls. During Spanish instruction vernacular Spanish and translanguaging can be used as resources in the classroom, such as in whole-group discussions, group work, writing activities, and other instructional tasks. When DLBE teachers want to correct students’ Spanish, we suggest that this is implemented without interrupting students’ academic engagement—as was done by the teacher in the opening vignette. For example, if students need help with subjunctive, the teacher can dedicate a mini lesson to introduce, model, and practice this form, instead of correcting and reprimanding students’ language efforts during content area instructional time. Policing language use ends up being counterproductive academically and can negatively impact students’ self-perceptions and academic engagement. Teacher educators need to prepare teachers to include student language in creative and deliberate ways. Vernacular Spanish and translanguaging should also be welcome during ‘English time.’ This move can avoid the pervasive hegemony of standard English dominating social and academic discussions in DLBE.

Teacher educators can also help pre-service and DLBE teachers to consider individual students’ backgrounds and needs when incorporating vernacular Spanish and its practices in the classroom. Spanish-English DLBE programs can encompass three student constituencies: the maintenance constituency, speakers of the partner language; the heritage constituency, students who have lost the partner language across generations; and the world language constituency, students with no heritage connection to the partner language (Delavan, Valdez, and Freire Citation2017). The maintenance constituency directly benefits from seeing their own home and community language practices validated in the classroom. The heritage language constituency benefits from recovering their heritage vernacular Spanish, even if they aren’t at the time fluent users of this kind of language themselves; vernacular forms may still be in use in some of their homes and communities. Use of a variety of vernacular forms of Spanish alongside standard forms (as well as English) provides heritage constituency students means to affirm their own heritage language practices including awareness of power imbalances found in the larger social, cultural and linguistic context.

The world language constituency will benefit from learning their classmates’ vernacular Spanish in their classrooms, as well as other varieties of the language present in local Spanish communities. Most students in this constituency are from the majority culture and might have not yet been confronted with their own linguistic and cultural identities. Students from other minoritized racial/ethnic or linguistic groups, who have faced institutionalized oppression and marginalization, can benefit from linguistic pluralism, metacognitive and academic benefits of the perspective taking afforded by inclusive translanguaging practices, and critical consciousness.

It is incumbent upon DLBE teachers to, in addition to mastering and teaching standard Spanish, become familiar with and recognize as legitimate the varieties of Spanish spoken in the families and communities they serve. Pre-service teachers’ familiarity with vernacular Spanish should also be considered when assessing Spanish language skills and pedagogical Spanish competencies in bilingual teacher education from a culturally relevant and assets-based perspective (Aquino-Sterling Citation2016; Aquino-Sterling and Rodríguez-Valls Citation2016). DLBE teachers who have not grown up practicing vernacular Spanish or translanguaging should avoid positioning themselves as experts on these practices, which can result in tensions and student resistance. Helmer (Citation2013) noted how a white high school teacher with good intentions experienced students’ resistance when she practiced Pachuco Spanish with them. Students considered her use of vernacular Spanish inauthentic and offensive. Helmer (Citation2013) advised teachers to allow and welcome the language of the students, but not to co-opt or present themselves as experts on the students’ own language.

Pre-service and in-service teachers need to recognize that vernacular languages, including Spanish, exist primarily in oral, not written, forms, which raises issues about the legitimacy of vernacular forms for academic work. Most textbooks in Spanish use standard Spanish; books, textbooks, and materials including vernacular and translanguaging are limited. However, they are not impossible to find, with effort. Teacher educators and teacher education programs should seek out and source bilingual literacy materials, including locally produced literacy materials that include local vernacular varieties of Spanish. Finding these types of literacy materials is often burdensome and overwhelming to new (and even experienced) classroom teachers, and teacher education programs can help support and mitigate this burden when possible. Providing literate materials in a variety of linguistic registers and varieties is an important and concrete way to counteract the predominance of standard written Spanish in DBLE classrooms. Thus, DLBE teachers can seek to incorporate these materials as often as possible in order to purposefully validate students’ use of vernacular Spanish and any translanguaging literacy forms.

Learning students’ vernacular Spanish needs to go beyond simply incorporating students’ vernacular languages and translanguaging. These mere additions to the classroom do not necessarily address student’s emancipatory needs (Darder Citation2012). A Freirian dialogical approach is necessary. DLBE teachers need to engage students in critical dialogues, helping them understand how their vernacular and translanguaging is positioned in society, the relationship between language and power, and how power differentials impact themselves and their communities. Often, these issues can be addressed through coursework in teacher preparation programs, but often this is not sufficient. Ongoing professional development, perhaps in conjunction with university-school partnerships, can be developed to monitor and track English-only initiatives and legislation, language representations in media, and institutions exclusive of translanguaging practices in official spaces. Critical consciousness requires activist efforts, and teacher educators are positioned to model this type of activism to their pre-service students. DBLE teachers might be better prepared, then, to facilitate activities in which students engage in activism, such as writing letters to authors and publishing companies requesting books and textbooks to acknowledge students’ home and community language practices. Efforts in this direction will help support critical consciousness raising as the fourth goal of DLBE.


DLBE programs have unique opportunities to make intentional efforts to include students’ vernacular Spanish, includes translanguaging, to meet the needs of language-minoritized students. Incorporating vernacular Spanish and translanguaging has the potential to combat deficit language ideologies and practices and facilitate critical consciousness for all DLBE students. This should be, we argue, an explicit DLBE goal, with activism as an essential component in these efforts. Pre-service teachers and in-service teachers involved with DLBE need to prepare themselves to help their students read both the word and the world (Freire Citation2005). The incorporation of vernacular and translanguaging as a pedagogical resource strengthens the goals of bilingualism and biliteracy in DLBE and constitute an essential element of critical consciousness as the fourth goal of DLBE.

Disclosure statement

No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author(s).

Additional information

Notes on contributors

Juan A. Freire

Juan A. Freire is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Teacher Education at Brigham Young University. His research concentrates on equity in dual language bilingual education in the areas of development of policy and planning and multicultural/bilingual teacher education.

Erika Feinauer

Erika Feinauer is an Associate Professor in the Department of Teacher Education at Brigham Young University. Her research focuses on the language and literacy development of young bilingual students and the role of identity and agency in these processes. Much of her research has been conducted with students and communities in dual language bilingual education programs.


1 This vignette is a hypothetical illustrative student-teacher interaction based on a composite of experiences authors have both experienced and observed in bilingual and dual language classrooms. Both authors are teacher educators who conduct research in DLBE classrooms and J. Freire is also a former DLBE classroom teacher.


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