The following article on multilingual university classrooms was recently published in the academic journal LitNet Akademies: Veeltaligheid op universiteit – ‘n uitdaging en ’n geleentheid vir identiteitsvorming.
Michael M Kretzer (postdoctoral fellow in African languages studies, Rhodes University) and Russell H Kaschula (NRF SARChI chair in African language studies, School of Languages and Literatures, Rhodes University), now discuss language policy and code-switching in South African school classrooms with Naomi Meyer.
Russell, you recently contributed to this article. Multilingualism is a reality in many South African schools. Do you think that children who do not speak English as well as their mother tongue, can benefit from a classroom situation where code-switching takes place, and why or why not?
Children can benefit from code-switching (CS) a lot, as meaningful teaching and learning should be at the core of every education system. If the former colonial language has been selected as the language of learning and teaching (LoLT), a flexible and open policy should be implemented, too. Such a policy should include modern teaching methods, such as code-switching, or translanguaging, to put the pupil at the centre of learning and the classroom, and to try to enable an inclusive learning environment for all pupils. Otherwise, language policy can be a disadvantage to already socio-economically disadvantaged pupils, with the sole usage of a former colonial language, such as English. If those pupils fail only due to the selection of a language, and might otherwise do well in various subjects and be able to follow the lessons, then the school language policies should allow teachers to use these methods. Language and language policy should help the teaching process in a classroom, and not hinder it.
The current CAPS is often criticised for the fact that so much time is spent on assessments. Do you not think that if a topic is discussed twice (in English as well as in the children’s mother tongue), it can waste precious teaching time? Or could you please explain code-switching to our readers?
Code-switching does not mean, necessarily, that all concepts and all lessons must be in two or more languages; this would mean that the lesson would be bi- or multilingual. Rather, the aim is to use code-switching, if necessary, for the whole classroom, if the majority struggles to understand a certain concept, or for individual pupils if only a few have a problem. Therefore, code-switching, or translanguaging, is also easier to implement if regular teaching is also taking other ways of teaching into consideration more. This means not only using a teacher-centred way of teaching, but also increasing the time spent on group work or partner work, to be able to help pupils in a more individual way, as well.
Why are there not more South African schools where children of all this country’s languages can simply be taught in their home languages? Why even discuss code-switching; why not switch to a language that all the kids in the class speak at home?
The main reason that many schools opt for the previous colonial language rather than any African language as the language of learning and teaching, is due mainly to existing language attitudes of parents, as well as to those of teachers. Many think that teaching in an African language disadvantages their children to the extent that they might not be able to learn and be fluent in English. This myth has to be fought, so that all involved stakeholders know that teaching in an African language can help to enhance the learning of English, too. This can be done via code-switching, enabling all pupils in a classroom to follow the lesson; however, a more ideal way would be through teaching in an African language, if possible.
We recently published an article in our academic journal, LitNet Akademies, about the benefits and the challenges of a multilingual classroom at university level: https://www.litnet.co.za/veeltaligheid-op-universiteit-n-uitdaging-en-n-geleentheid-vir-identiteitsvorming/. Do you think there is a way in this country where school children of various cultural and linguistic backgrounds could be in the same classroom and learn concepts in their own mother tongues, as well as integrate and interact with children of various other backgrounds?
Yes, this is multi-tongue teaching, and it should be encouraged as part of context-driven language planning. In other words, in a specific class, if there are tutors who speak different languages, then each tutor should be identified as a speaker of languages X and Y, and it should be indicated that these languages can be used in the tutorial group, before translanguaging back to English, if that is the medium of instruction. Students would then be able to choose which tutorial to attend, depending on the language capabilities of the tutor. PowerPoint presentations can also be delivered multilingually, even if the facilitator is a monolingual teacher. There are many strategies that can be explored in order to aid the cognition of a learner who does not necessarily have academic proficiency in English at university level. Learners can also be used to interpret in a particular classroom, even if the teacher or lecturer is monolingual. Similar approaches can be used in the school classroom, as well.
Please tell me how your ideal South African classroom would look.
An ideal South African classroom, firstly, sees languages and multilingualism as a resource, and not a burden. This is alongside the constitutional idea of equality of languages. Secondly, the involvement and inclusion of many African languages through code-switching, or translanguaging, helps the pupils to learn from each other, and be aware of different cultures and languages, and understand why certain pupils think and learn in certain ways. It allows them to bring their own indigenous knowledge into the classroom, and it creates identity familiarity, rather than identity vulnerability. An open, flexible and inclusive learning environment can help to let every pupil feel welcome and to feel important and equal, regardless of their linguistic background. The linguistic landscape (LL) of the classroom and school can also help. If such areas are multilingual and embrace the usage of many languages, it helps to increase the awareness and importance of multilingualism, and pupils learn to understand that they are all equal and all languages are equal.