South African teachers switch languages in class: why policy should follow


Others thought code switching was a great idea and recognised its value:

Other teachers viewed African languages as having limited use in teaching, especially in subjects like science. They believed these languages were better suited to social situations, and that their use should be limited to these situations. This indicates the importance and influence of language attitudes on language practices and policies.

Importantly, we found that code switching was used in all schools – even those that did not explicitly allow it in their school language policy documents. Teachers used it mainly in oral communication, in classroom situations. Others were afraid to code switch because of their schools’ language policy documents.

The role of School Governing Bodies

Individual schools’ language policies are formulated by the School Governing Body (SGB). This is in accordance with the South African legal framework to de-centralise education and also language policies. SGBs consist of the principal and elected members; elected members are the parents or legal guardians of enrolled pupils; teachers; pupils from grade 8 upwards or other school staff members.

Language policies must be set up within the country’s constitutional framework and in accordance with the Language in Education Policy, which came into effect in 1997. Its main aim was to increase multilingualism at schools and to consider the languages spoken in the surrounding area of a school to ensure these were central to language policy and teaching.

Parents or other members of the SGB often have a very biased language attitude that only favours English. They feel pupils should have maximum exposure to English – and this hinders a stronger inclusion of African languages at schools. Despite a large, comprehensive body of research that proves the value of mother tongues, such language attitudes seem to be very deeply rooted and persistent.

A much more flexible and open teaching and language policy would help teachers and pupils to enable a meaningful learning environment in a multilingual and heterogeneous classroom setting. Such an open language policy would and should include code switching or translanguaging to see the unused potentials of teaching in African languages as well as in English in classrooms.

Flexible language policies and teaching approaches should be utilised to put each and every individual pupil and his and her individual learning progress at the centre of classroom interactions.

The Conversation

Michael M. Kretzer, NRF SARChI Chair Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, School of African Languages, Rhodes University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.