Language and practice: a case study on Afrikaans First Additional Language with grade 4 learners in a multilingual school

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With multilingual learning as a complex yet growing phenomenon in South Africa, inadequate attention has been paid to social-constructivist insights pertaining to the productive cognitive influences of peer learning by learners from different home language and cultural backgrounds when someone is learning a new language. The purpose of this study was to look at socially constructed learning practices of both oral and written Afrikaans as a First Additional Language (FAL) by learners who were coming from Xhosa backgrounds. Hence a purposive sampling approach was followed for the selection of participants. The key participants presented in the study were five grade 4 Afrikaans FAL learners, comprising one French, one Shona and three Xhosa language users. These learners formed a minority of the entire classroom population in terms of enrolment statistics. The research was conducted at a school in the Western Cape province of the Republic of South Africa.

The problem that led to this investigation had to do with a vast number of learners studying Afrikaans FAL and yet their lingual proficiencies in the target language are at third, fourth or even fifth language level. In this regard, we then argue that these proficiency levels in the target language suggest a need for support to augment accelerated comprehension. In the context of our argument, individual research participants’ home or most familiar language can be an important supportive resource as a language of learning and teaching (LoLT). Our argument is supported by the fundamental principles for just and equal education. Heugh (1995:45) in Heugh, Siegrühn & Plüddemann (1995) calls for the provision of equal access to education for every learner and asserts that multilingualism should be encouraged in such a manner that no language should directly or indirectly be used as the dominant or as a discriminatory language.

Myburgh, Poggenpoel and Van Rensburg 2004:573) raised a concern about the common practice of teaching and learning that is conducted primarily in the learners’ second or third language in South African schools. Receiving education in a language that is not a home vernacular or the most familiar language suggests it is likely to be among the contributors to the challenges facing the education system in South Africa.

This article focuses on the learning practices of Afrikaans FAL for grade 4 third- or fourth-language speakers of Afrikaans. The emphasis is on how the Xhosa, Shona and French language learners navigate their way to co-construct understanding of Afrikaans FAL individually and with their peers who are from other African countries. What is common among all these learner participants is that they predominantly do not use Afrikaans at home.

This article reports on a case study with a mixed-method application, focusing more on the interpretive paradigm. This research design allowed for the provision of multiple resources to conduct a comprehensive analysis. This study embraced additive multilingualism, encompassing both the spoken and the written literacy forms of language within a multilingual school context.

The conceptual grounding of this study relied on scholarly views expressed by Piaget’s (1953) cognitive development theory, Vygotsky’s (1978) social constructivist theory, Cummins (1984 to the present), and Pretorius and Mampuru (2007) regarding second language acquisition. In terms of the research procedures, one of the co-authors of this article visited the school over a period of six months where observation occurred and interviews were conducted with the learners and their parents as well as the Afrikaans FAL teacher. The field researcher viewed learners’ workbooks as a reference.

It was discovered that, despite Afrikaans being taught as a second language, for the learners who participated in this study it was not heard often in their everyday social environments outside the classroom. The reason is that members of their microsystems (family) and ecosystems (community) do not have a solid comprehension of Afrikaans. At home there is a lack of support for learners learning Afrikaans, therefore they struggle with comprehension of Afrikaans FAL. 

The results of this article further indicate that Afrikaans as a second language could be successfully learnt upon application of the following principles by third or fourth language speakers. Similarities between learning Afrikaans for grade 4 learners with different African home languages were discovered. It is recommended that Afrikaans be used more outside the school and classroom contexts by means of support groups towards making a positive contribution to the teaching and learning of Afrikaans FAL. It is important to involve Afrikaans in many facets to manage the realistic expectations within South Africa’s multilingual and multicultural contexts.

Furthermore, is it important that Intermediate Phase teachers of a first additional language should take heed of the importance of understanding and having an awareness of the linguistic backgrounds of learners when facilitating learning to allow them to use their home languages as a learning tool. Learners’ home languages should not be ignored; whether the learners form a minority in the class or not, their home languages need to be acknowledged. Teachers should create opportunities to use the learners’ home languages actively in class. Teachers could acquire fundamental communication skills in the languages spoken most in the province in which they teach.

This study provides suggestions for pedagogical principles for Afrikaans FAL, able to be adopted for multilingual and socio-intercultural contexts with grade 4 learners that are third- or fourth-language speakers of Afrikaans who co-exist with learners from other African backgrounds. For further research, insights gained from this study can be used to advocate for the ethnographic approaches that could allow for the integration of school and home literacies that influence learning practices inside and outside the classroom, as well across the Afrikaans second-language curriculum. In addition, even though we cannot claim generalisability of the results of this study, an inquiry could be pursued on how Afrikaans FAL teachers could facilitate more sensory and practical learning experiences and integrate parental involvement.

We conclude that, unless learning practices inform the pedagogical role of the additional language teacher as a strategic facilitator for those learning a new language, especially learners who form a minority, it is likely that the implementation of curricular documents would continue to dishonour cognitive justice for learners who need support for the learning of additional languages in South Africa and beyond. 

Keywords: Afrikaans as a First Additional Language; learning practices; multilingualism; second language acquisition; social constructivism 


Lees die volledige artikel in Afrikaans

Taal en praktyk: ’n gevallestudie oor Afrikaans Eerste Addisionele Taal by graad 4-leerders in ’n meertalige skool


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