Language practices and identities of multilingual students in a Western Cape tertiary institution : implications for teaching and learning
In South Africa, there has been little research into the language practices of multilingual students in tertiary institutions or into how such students negotiate identities in these globalising contexts where the dominance of English remains an important factor. This research was aimed at exploring the appropriateness of 1997 Language-In-Education policy for schools and the national Language Policy for Higher Education (2002) for equipping students for tertiary teaching and learning. It therefore investigated the relationship between the language practices and construction of identities of a group of multilingual first year students in the Education Faculty at a Western Cape university. In this integrated institution, in spite of the current political and socio-economic transformation that has been at the centre of new policies, the medium of instruction is still predominantly monolingual. The premise of the research was that in a multilingual country such as South Africa with 11 official languages, tertiary institutions ought to more vigorously engage with their current language policies in order to value and extend the language practices of multilingual students for academic learning. Here multilingual repertoires are understood as resources rather than problems. The research draws extensively on Bourdieu's notion of 'linguistic capital' quantifying language itself as a form of capital with a market value. Through thematic analysis of themes drawn from questionnaires, interviews, focus group discussions, and participant observation in both tutorials and lectures, the investigation concluded that a monolingual medium of instruction to non-native speakers should be practised alongside other languages as means to support in their academic attainment. Finally the research emphasised the importance of code switching as a strategy that facilitates learning and promotes understanding of the role language resources play in social and academic interaction.