2. Bilingual approaches

People often feel that a teacher should use only the additional language in class in order that pupils become as fluent as possible in it. This is not an unreasonable view and it does work well in certain situations. However, the reality in many African classrooms is that:

  • there are no native or very competent speakers of the additional language (pupils or teachers) in the school;
  • pupils have little exposure to the additional language outside of the classroom;
  • most teachers do a lot of code-switching (i.e. alternating languages while they are talking);
  • if only the additional language is used, pupils are lost most of the time, especially in the early years of learning the new language.

When pupils have learned the additional language for a few years only, and do not have much exposure to it outside the classroom, they can only understand and make sentences relating to everyday realities. They are often not yet able to use it to discuss ideas and concepts. In order to extend learning to discuss ideas, it can be useful to take a bilingual approach.

Case Study 2: Discussing ideas in the home language

In Kibaha, Zawadi Nyangasa led her Standard 7 English class in a lesson based on a story about a king and a shoemaker. She wanted them to think about the nature of true ‘wisdom’ and ‘cleverness’, and the purpose of education.

She read the story aloud to the class, stopping from time to time to ask questions to check understanding. Most of the questions and answers were in English, but there were times when she used the mother tongue to clarify a concept or to relate the story to the pupils’ life (see Resource 2: Lesson transcript).

After reading the story, she asked the pupils to discuss the following questions, in small groups of four to six. She encouraged them to use their mother tongue.

  • Do you think the shoemaker was an educated person? Was he wise? Clever? Happy? What are your reasons for saying so?
  • What are the important things that we learn at school? Why are they important?

They reported back in their mother tongue, and had a general discussion on the questions. She made notes on the board, also in the mother tongue.

Activity 2: Adults I admire

Read Resource 3: Safety and think about aspects of the reading that may cause difficulties for your class.

Read the passage with your pupils, discussing any unfamiliar words or concepts.

Ask them how the adults in their world behave:

  • do they behave like the ones described in the first three paragraphs of the passage, or like those described in the fourth paragraph?
  • is the behaviour of adults helpful to them as young people? Why, or why not?

Have this discussion in the home language. If it would encourage deeper discussion, let pupils discuss in small groups, and report back after 15 minutes or so.

Ask them to choose an adult they know whom they admire and write a description of this person, using a language of their choice. (See Resource 4: Who is my father?) They could work in pairs or groups of three or four.

Collect their work and give feedback. They may have shared deep feelings, so respond in a human way to the content, rather then focusing on the grammatical errors, etc. (See Key Resource: Assessing learning [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .)

1. Using home language to stimulate creativity

3. Code-switching to promote thinking skills