A qualitative study of language preferences and behaviours of selected students and staff in the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Cape Town, in the context of the university's implementation of its 2003 language policy and plan

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

This dissertation seeks to answer the question: What are the language contexts, preferences and behaviours of EAL students and staff in the Faculty of Humanities at UCT? The language contexts EAL students and staff find themselves in are either formal or informal. The former refers to domains such as the classroom and administration offices, while the latter alludes to student residences and generally out-of-class social interaction. Language preferences refer to attitudes of both EAL students and of staff towards language(s) that are used in their linguistic context. The language behaviours of EAL students and of staff are their language practices in the various social contexts within which they find themselves. The following research instruments were used to collect data in order to answer the research question: questionnaires, interviews and observations. I opted for self-administered questionnaires and conducted semi-structured interviews to validate questionnaire responses. Both the questionnaires and interviews had closed-ended and open-ended questions to accommodate a variety of responses. I observed a group of respondents, who were part of purposive samples of convenience (snowball samples), for three months and subsequently processed data qualitatively through thematic analysis. The first finding of this study is that EAL students find the UCT language context to be different to their home language context. In the home context they use their PLs more while on UCT campus the institutional culture forces them to use mainly English. The second finding is with regard to their language preferences. EAL students show an ambivalent attitude towards English and their own primary languages in teaching and learning programmes. This attitude of EAL students towards English at UCT is also documented in research by Bangeni (2001), Bangeni & Kapp (2005), and Thesen & van Pletzen (eds.) (2006). This attitude is in tandem with their language behaviour. EAL students shuttle between their PLs and English. The data show that EAL students code-switch in conversations outside class and in their residences. They mainly use English for instrumental reasons (see also De Klerk & Barkhuizen 1998: 159-160). As for staff members they use English inside and outside class. ix The language contexts, preferences and practices of EAL students constitute part of the UCT institutional culture. This institutional culture is the social context within which institutional policy documents such as the UCT Language Plan (2003) are to be implemented. Implications for the implementation of the UCT Language Policy and Plan could be drawn from the language preferences and behaviours discussed above. The study concludes by making recommendations for the implementation of the UCT Language Policy and Plan. The study recommends that the Multilingualism Education Project (MEP) collaborate with language departments so as to explore possibilities of designing programmes that target EAL students and staff for postgraduate certificate courses. Such courses could focus on workplace-oriented communicative skills. Renewed marketability of African languages, as well as reviewing how they are taught and used within the UCT speech community, should be considered. Though the small sample sizes underpinning this study do not justify generalisation on the UCT community, its findings could nonetheless serve as preliminary evidence of significant language contexts, preferences and behaviours of EAL students and of staff in the Faculty of Humanities at UCT. The outcome of this research could be invaluable for language planning at UCT and similar institutions.

Includes bibliographical references.