Using all of your Languages as a Writing Resource

Speaking multiple languages means you  bring multiple assets to your education. For example, you may find a research paper or a work of fiction written in your first language or know a quote by a famous philosopher that you can use in your papers. You also may find that your ideas on certain topics flow more freely in different languages. Rather than ignoring these assets, learning to use them may enrich your writing and your knowledge base. 

Translanguaging (simultaneously using more than one language):

Even though your final drafts of papers should be in the target language of the assignment, using multiple languages to brainstorm and draft your ideas may keep your ideas flowing or lead you in new directions. Multilingual writers have described writing in one language as limiting (), or freeing (). Depending on your goal, you may find writing in all of your languages to be a helpful tool, particularly in the earliest stages of developing your ideas.Here’s a few suggestions to try:

  • Brainstorm in all of your languages. Whether you are free-writing, mindmapping, listing ideas, or speaking aloud, use whatever language comes to mind. 
  • Don’t let vocabulary slow you down. When writing a first draft of a paper, if you can’t think of the word or phrase in the language of the paper, write it in whatever language you know it in. You can go back and look it up later rather than stopping the flow of your ideas to look something up. If the phrase doesn't translate exactly, you’ll have time to contemplate how to translate correctly it into the target language when you revise the draft. 
  • Break writer’s block. If you just can’t seem to get your ideas flowing, try switching languages for a sentence or two. Try not to write the whole paper in a different language than you’ll submit it, since that would bring lots of translation work, but a few sentences can get the ideas flowing. 
  • Take notes quickly. Words in some languages are shorter than others. If there are common words that are shorter in another language, you can use the shorter word as an abbreviation. For example, instead of writing “and” (English) you could use “y” (Spanish) or “и” (Russian). That being said, avoid taking all of your notes in a different language than you are listening to. The translation process (no matter how fluent you are) will slow you down.   

Using Sources in Multiple Languages

As you are researching topics, remember that your ability to read sources in another language can be a valuable asset. Quoting authors, politicians, scientists, and philosophers will add something unique to your papers and enrich your understanding of the topic. However, check with your professors about what they consider a credible source before using it and make sure you know how to properly quote a source in another language. Most citation styles require writing the source in the original language, then providing a translation in parentheses or brackets immediately after it. See the following websites for the most common citation style requirements: