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Emergent bilinguals as text designers: rendering meaning through signs

Sally Brown (Department of Curriculum, Foundations and Reading, Georgia Southern University, Statesboro, Georgia, USA)

English Teaching: Practice & Critique

ISSN: 1175-8708

Article publication date: 19 January 2021

Issue publication date: 20 July 2021




The main purpose is to investigate what resources young emergent bilinguals use to communicate a multimodal response to children’s literature. In particular, attention is paid to the ways students translanguage as part of the learning process.


An ethnography-in-education approach was used to capture the social and cultural aspects of literacy learning in an English-only context. A multimodal transcript analysis was applied to video-recorded data as a method for examining semiotic resources and modes of learning.


The results revealed that students used technology, paper-based resources and peers to construct meaning relative to books. Experimentation or play with the affordances of the tablet computer served as avenues to determine the agentive selection of resources. As students wrestled with constructing meaning, they gathered multiple perspectives from peers and children’s literature to involve symbols and representations in their texts. Signs, multiple language forms and meaning came together for the social shaping of situated perspectives.


This study addresses the call for educators to engage in multiliterate, multimodal practices with young learners in the contexts of classrooms. It provides insight into the need to create multilingual learning spaces where translanguaging freely occurs and the meaningful ways early childhood learners use technology. To fully understand what emergent bilinguals know and can do, they must be afforded a variety of semiotic resources at school.



The researcher acknowledges the students, families, teachers, and principal that made this study possible.


Brown, S. (2021), "Emergent bilinguals as text designers: rendering meaning through signs", English Teaching: Practice & Critique, Vol. 20 No. 2, pp. 130-148.



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