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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

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


TSHUMA, Lindiwe  and  LE CORDEUR, Michael. Language as a resource in Intermediate Phase Mathematics teaching. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2017, vol.57, n.3, pp.707-723. ISSN 2224-7912.

Generally, mathematics teacher education in South Africa does not enforce mastery in the language of instruction (Chitera 2016) and provides minimal or no guidance towards coherent and systematic use of translanguaging including code switching in the classroom during or after initial teacher education. Such a practice compromises the quality of content delivery as pedagogically disadvantaged teachers may in turn have a negative impact on the majority of learners in public schools who are multilingual; in other words, those who are also English Language Learners (ELLs). International assessments on education have consistently rated the quality of South African mathematics education as being significantly low (Howie 2001; Reddy 2006, 2012) as reported in Trends in International Mathematics and Science Studies (TIMSS 2013). Of the various reasons cited by the TIMSS Report, this article highlights teachers' competency in English as one of the most significant predictors of mathematics performance, particularly because the country's indigenous languages are yet to be fully developed to support mathematics instruction. South African language dynamics is such that ninety percent of South African learners are not native English speakers (Spaull 2016). Yet their different home languages are used in the FP while from the IP onwards English is used as the official Language of Learning and Teaching (LoLT). Current South African mathematics pedagogy does not foreground knowledge of ELLs or the linguistic features that influence mathematics teaching and learning, which reflects a gap in both practice and research. This contribution to the search for a possible unifying pedagogy for mathematics education is extracted from an on-going doctoral research interrogating relationships between language competency and Intermediate Phase mathematics instruction in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. In this contribution towards searching for a unifying pedagogy, we highlight the requisite contextual aspect of mathematics pedagogy to better serve multilingual learners as it is important to teach learners in a language they understand as reported in United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO 2016). In mathematics, the challenge faced by ELLs is threefold in that they have to acquire the new language of learning, as well as learning mathematics and its register (Barwell, Leung, Morgan & Street 2002; Bohlmann 2001; Setati & Adler 2001). Mathematics is not language free and its particular vocabulary, syntax and discourse may cause problems for ELLs (Barton & Neville-Barton 2003). While many learners who are taught mathematics in their mother-tongue have difficulty in acquiring the mathematics register, this is heightened for ELLs who must learn it in a second, third or even fourth language. English is a difficult language to learn even for first language learners, and a particularly significant hurdle for ELLs is the prevalence of ambiguous words in mathematics. The theoretical frameworks employed in order to investigate other bilingual and multilingual learning contexts, given the increasing number of ELLs receiving education in a dominant language that is not their first language, (Setati & Adler 2001) are Cummins's (2000) Linguistic Threshold Hypothesis; Ellerton's (1989) Framework for Interpreting Language Factors in Mathematics Learning; Gawned's (1990) Socio-Psycho-Linguistic Model and Baker's (2011) Pedagogical Translanguaging Theory. This article seeks to highlight the importance of code switching effectively; not as a substitute for incompetency, but bearing in mind that assessment will be in the prescribed LoLT (Tshuma 2016). As such, the article provides a brief description of the language dynamics in South Africa, followed by linguistic features influencing mathematics instruction including common ambiguous words, and finally provides suggestions for teaching approaches that might improve the teaching of mathematics to ELLs. Since teacher education does not enforce mastery in the language of instruction (Chitera 2016), this article highlights some aspects of the English mathematics register that may be sources of difficulty specifically for IP learners in the transition to English-medium education in the South African education system, and some pedagogical strategies that may be useful in managing the transition. In multilingual communities using a LoLT, which is not the home language to both the learners and the teachers, it is important to equip teachers with the necessary linguistic skills to facilitate mathematics instruction. This article does not seek to enshrine English at the expense of other official languages in South Africa, but endeavours to cater for the ELLs who are in the education system today and supposed to be taught and assessed in English as stipulated by the Language in Education Policy (LiEP), (DoE 1997). Even if policies change and promote mother tongue instruction throughout the entire ordinary education system, proficiency in English will still be a prerequisite for ELLs to access the global world.

Keywords : Intermediate Phase; mathematics teacher education; English Language Learners (ELLs); mother tongue instruction; teachers' competency in English; translanguaging; code switching.

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