This article discusses how learners negotiate their linguistic identities in a rural Afrikaans-medium high school in the Northern Cape. These learners obtained access to this school with different degrees of language competency. The dominant language usage in the learners’ home communities differs from the medium of language instruction at the school. In cases where the medium of instruction in a school does not correspond with the language used in the community, learners are forced to make language adjustments to engage in their education. In this case, the successful navigation of non-corresponding linguistic spaces, which are the school and home environments, can be ensured by developing and deploying linguistic capital. With linguistic capital, we refer to the language adaptation resources that the learners utilise to survive and adapt to their school's language expectations. This article focuses on learners’ ability to use their linguistic capital to aid their language adaptation practices in an Afrikaans-medium high school.
The article draws on a thesis (Groenewald 2012) that explored young people’s subjectivities in the context of a rural mining environment in the Northern Cape Province. It is based on qualitative research. We were guided by the following central research question: How do learners use their linguistic capital to navigate their educational processes at a school in the Northern Cape? Data were gathered through in-depth semi-structured interviews held with two learners from Namibia, an Ovambo-speaking male learner and a Damara-Nama-speaking female learner. These two learners are from families who migrated from Namibia to settle in a mining town in the Northern Cape, where the research was done.
The research succeeded in allowing us to gain understanding of and insight into the learners’ lived experiences in their new community and school context. The research was based on an interpretivist and social constructivist paradigm which recognises the importance of individual experiences in the social world. We followed a narrative methodology which involved listening to and analysing the participants’ stories. The narratives provided an understanding of the learners’ lived experiences with respect to how their linguistic capital helped them adapt to the new school context.
The study used a combination of Bourdieu’s (1977) Theory of Practice and Yosso’s (2005) Model of Community Cultural Wealth as lenses to understand how the learners’ linguistic capital contributed to their educational processes. Bourdieu’s (1998) concepts habitus, field and capital enabled us to understand the participants’ learning practices. Habitus was a key concept for our analysis. Habitus refers to “a system of dispositions which generate perceptions, appreciations and practices” (Bourdieu 1990:53). We wanted to understand how habitus is constructed through primary and secondary socialisation and how habitus changes with new experiences. Successful navigation in a particular field will occur when the specific knowledge and practices of that field are recognised and applied. The two fields in the study, that is the community and school, have however different dominant languages. A crucial part of the study was understanding how the learners bridged the divide between these two fields by using their cultural capital repertoires. In this light, the article’s spotlight fell on how the learners went about using the available resources in the field to establish survival and adaptation practices. Yosso’s (2005) theory reminded us not merely to look at the second-language learners’ adjustment to the dominant language of instruction as a deficit. Instead, Yosso's theory asked us to recognise how learners used their embedded individual cultural wealth to develop the necessary linguistic practices to adapt to their school's educational expectations. The theoretical lenses that we used enabled us to understand how the learners’ family- and community-based linguistic resources informed their linguistic adaptations to aid their educational processes.
We present the findings in three sections. In the first section, we discuss the two learners’ biographical information, focusing on their primary socialisation dynamics, including their home language, family background and cultural contexts. We also discuss their secondary socialisation associated with their school-going, which includes their school contexts, instruction language and other educational processes. The learners' multilingual community context afforded them a language background and skills that served as a foundation for their linguistic adaptation in their new school context. In the second section, we describe the learners’ experiences and linguistic adaptations in their new school circumstances, where they had to adjust to Afrikaans as the language of instruction. A network of friends, teachers and parental support assisted them in their linguistic navigations. The final section is a discussion of how the learners navigated their schooling by using their linguistic capital during their educational processes. Opportunities to communicate in their home language at the school and their positive attitude helped the learners adapt to the new medium of instruction. The learners’ communication and language skills, especially their ability to learn through the medium of Afrikaans, improved to such an extent that they succeeded in becoming adept learners at the school.
This article illustrates how the learners’ exercise of their linguistic capital became one of the central pillars of their educational processes in a context where they had to learn their school’s language of instruction. While language adaptation in such a context is not a new phenomenon among migrant learners, this article provides a qualitative portrayal of how learners establish the necessary language repertoires to aid their education. Further productive research could investigate the link between multilingualism, linguistic strategies and the attainment of educational success.
Keywords: educational processes; language identities; learning-practice formation; linguistic capital; multilingualism