SciELO - Scientific Electronic Library Online

vol.56 issue4-1Perspectives on Afrikaans as a university languageAfrikaans as language of teaching and learning in schools: A "new" approach to an "old" problem author indexsubject indexarticles search
Home Pagealphabetic serial listing  

Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


VAN DER WALT, Johannes L  and  WOLHUTER, Charl C. First Language as medium of instruction in higher education: An international perspective. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2016, vol.56, n.4-1, pp.1016-1033. ISSN 2224-7912.

The purpose of this article is to illuminate the issue of home language as a language of learning and teaching (LOLT) at university level in South Africa, in view of international historical and comparative perspectives. According to widely accepted hypotheses, formal educational institutions evolved because of political and economic considerations. Although such views are reductionistic in that they do not paint the full picture, they contain a modicum of truth and provide some insight into the issue of LOLT in educational settings. Central governments have always showed a tendency to use education as an instrument for legitimising their own existence and for maintaining the integrity of the state (in the 18th century, for example). Very few minority languages have so far succeeded in acquiring LOLT status with the approval and support of national governments, despite rhetoric about the importance of multiculturalism and adherence to human rights manifesto's. French in Canada (both within and outside of Quebec) and Afrikaans in South Africa are being considered as exceptions to this rule. English has become the language of government in South Africa due to historical circumstances. This, combined with its status as a powerful international linguistic vehicle in a globalised world economy, makes it a factor to be reckoned with by the users of minority languages in South Africa, such as Afrikaans. The possibility of relinquishing the status of Afrikaans as LOLT at South African universities should be carefully weighed against the negative outcomes that such a move might bring about: loss of learning quality and achievement among Afrikaans-speaking students and the possibility that a dysfunctional school system (especially the inadequate command of English of many school teachers and the fact that subjects at secondary school level are often taught not in English but by means of code switching) will in any case place severe restraints on any equalisation effort regarding the employment of English as an exclusive LOLT at South African universities. Other disadvantages of such a step might be the creation of even more social inequalities, deleterious effects on the Afrikaans-speaking community, the removal of Afrikaans in the few places where it is still being used, and the possible extinction of the language within two or three generations. This article embodies a plea not only for the retention of Afrikaans as an LOLT at university level but also for the inclusion of all the other indigenous minority languages in South Africa. The loss of any language leads to a loss of cognitive possibilities, creativity and innovation - something which can hardly be afforded in times of a growing knowledge economy (that is, an economy in which the production and application of new knowledge have become the main driving forces). The loss of a language will be detrimental to opportunities of its speakers in the labour market. The article culminates in the recommendation that Afrikaans should be retained as an LOLT at universities, though alongside English as a second language with lingua franca status. The teaching and learning of English as a second language should be of the highest quality to ensure that it serves as an effective LOLT for students (learners at all levels). The chances of attaining this ideal through negotiation with government and the Department of Higher Education - although it has remained part of an over-all strategy on the part of the speakers of minority languages - seem to be slim. A more viable strategy might be the mobilisation of the Afrikaans segment of the broad South African civil society in favour of the retention of Afrikaans as an LOLT at universities. In doing so, the Afrikaans-speaking community will have to reckon with the recent vocal and even violent opposition of many students to the retention of Afrikaans as a university LOLT. A strategy will have to be developed to stabilise university campuses and to protect Afrikaans from opportunistic attacks such as those being televised on campuses on a daily basis.

Keywords : Afrikaans; higher education; international comparative perspectives; language of learning and teaching (LOLT); medium of instruction and learning; multicultural education; university.

        · abstract in Afrikaans     · text in Afrikaans     · Afrikaans ( pdf )


Creative Commons License All the contents of this journal, except where otherwise noted, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License