"You would be a master of a subject if taught in Xhosa": an investigation into the complexities of bilingual concept development in an English medium university in South Africa

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International Journal of Learning

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Common Ground Publishing


University of Cape Town

This paper reports on a research project which set out to explore what happens when students at an English medium university in South Africa are given opportunities to negotiate conceptual understanding in their primary languages. The project employed a range of methods, including concept translation, multilingual tutorial groups, interviews and a survey questionnaire to develop a richer understanding of the possibilities for multilingual teaching and learning in English medium tertiary education settings in South Africa. By allowing the student voices in the bilingual tutorial discussions to illustrate the complex difficulties that students face when they negotiate understanding of new concepts in their primary languages, this paper develops a textured understanding of multilingual concept formation. In addition, the study has provided valuable insights into students' attitudes to multilingual teaching and learning which highlight the very complex relationships between language, learning and identity. Therefore this research should add to the body of research that has begun to emerge on shifting language attitudes and identity negotiation in the multilingual tertiary education context of South Africa (de Kadt 2005, Bangeni and Kapp, in press). The paper concludes by looking at ways in which English medium institutions can offer scaffolded support to ESL speakers who are learning through the medium of English.

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