Language transition and epistemic access: The teaching and learning of English as first additional language in the foundation phase
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South Africa is a multicultural and multilingual country, with eleven official languages which include English, Afrikaans, IsiXhosa, IsiZulu, IsiNdebele, Sesotho, Setswana, Sepedi, TshiVenda and Xitsonga. While the nine African languages have official status, they are used for teaching and learning in the Foundation Phase (Grades R – 3) only. English is accorded high prestige and status, and it is used as the main Language of Learning and Teaching (LoLT) from Grade 4 to tertiary level. This occurs mostly in schools with African language-speaking learners only, while English and Afrikaans speaking learners maintain their home languages as LoLT from pre-primary to tertiary education. This study argues that if learners do not have a solid foundation in their home language and in the first additional language (FAL), they may not cope with the demands of the Grade 4 curriculum where English additional language is used as the main LoLT. Therefore, this study explored the teaching and learning of English (FAL) in Grade 3 and the extent to which it prepared learners for transition to English LoLT and their epistemic access to knowledge in Grade 4. The Constructivist and Sociocultural theories were used to understand how the teaching and learning of English LoLT occurred in the selected Grade 3 classroom, in an under resourced township school in the Western Cape. The study made use of a qualitative research approach. Data were collected by means of classroom observations, interviews and document analysis. Interviews were conducted with the Grade 3 class teacher, the Head of Department (HOD) and the principal. Data were analysed thematically. The findings of the study show that the Grade 3 teacher made use of learner-centred strategies in teaching English. However, the learners were not challenged to think critically. Learners had reading and writing difficulties, as well as low proficiency in English. The study concludes that English (FAL) is a barrier to Grade 3 learners’ epistemic access to learning and it could negatively impact on their transition to English LoLT in Grade 4.