Sustainability Beyond Google Translate: Language-Enhanced Nordic and Canadian Approaches to Teaching and Learning Urban Sustainability

Grant program: Teaching and Learning Development Grant (TLDG)

Grant recipient: Meg Holden, Urban Studies

Project team: Annika Airas, research assistant

Timeframe: July 2019 to July 2020

Funding: $6000

Course addressed: URB 645 – Urban Sustainable Development

Description: Our idea is to develop a workshop that will investigate pedagogical applications of translanguaging (Mazak 2016) in order to enhance teaching and learning urban sustainability. We understand the use of language to convey meaning, emotion, and context as an ongoing process. Therefore, our emphasis on translanguaging implies a focus on making meanings, alongside making social, emotional and place-based connections within the dynamic use of language, instead of simply focusing on the differences that different languages make to expression, and the things that get “lost in translation” (Garcia, cited in Mazak 2016: 2). As an officially bilingual country, Canada provides a unique and interesting starting point for our proposal – because, in contrast with monolingual nation states, bilingualism creates some amount of translanguaging as part of the daily life of Canadians. We will apply translanguaging here as a pedagogical stance in which both students and instructors will be invited to draw on their linguistic and semiotic resources as part of efforts to teach and learn content material (Mazak 2016: 5). In valuing the translanguaging process as part of teaching and learning about urban sustainable development, we will include storytelling about non-anglophone linguistic and cultural contexts, beginning with those of the Coast Salish peoples of the Vancouver region and proceeding to focus on stories and language “packages” from Nordic contexts. In this exploration and re-valuation of translanguaging, we aim to better understand and acknowledge the importance of local, lived environments and the relationships and stories that they attach themselves to and tell themselves through, from Indigenous to anglophone to Finnish and Danish. We expect to be able to assess particularities of learning outcomes related to the translanguaging process that would not be expected from the conventional approach to teaching content in urban sustainable development at the graduate level.


Mazak, C. M., & Carroll, K. S. (Eds.). (2016). Translanguaging in higher education : Beyond monolingual ideologies.

Questions addressed:

  • How do students understand given concepts of sustainability in their English form – sufficiency, frugality, subsistence, homeliness -- before the field visits?
  • When students are introduced to words in unfamiliar languages within an experiential context, how do local cultural circumstances shape student understandings of sustainability concepts?
  • What differences can students recognize between their experiential learning in the field, and with the experiential examples offered from indigenous guests and from the Nordic countries?
  • How, if at all, can hands-on-experiences advance the understandings of translations?
  • How can non-English concepts and contexts (both Nordic and Indigenous) enrich and alter student and instructor understandings of sustainability?
  • Can experiential learning advance an understanding of parochial and vernacular concepts in sustainability?

Knowledge sharing: Findings of this project will be shared at SFU events such as SFU Postdoc day, and informally with academic colleagues in Canada and in the Nordic countries. We aim to share the results of the workshop in venues such as the Teaching and Learning Centre blog, SFU Geography news site, SFU Urban Studies newsletter, the University of Helsinki Urban Academy website, as well as possible venues at Roskilde University, Denmark. We will prepare a coauthored scholarly manuscript based on our results, targeting publication in the open access journal Ecology and Society and or Planning Theory and Practice.