Teaching African Languages the Ubuntu Way: The Effects of Translanguaging Among Pre-Service Teachers in South Africa

  • Leketi Makalela


The indigenous African languages in South Africa have always been taught in isolation from one another, following a long history of linguistic separation that characterized Apartheid South Africa. Whereas current research is replete with the findings that schools’ monolingual practices contradict the sociocultural milieus in which these languages are spoken, there has been a paucity of studies that have reported on the use of alternative approaches that valorize plural, versatile and fluid educational spaces for integrated multilingual development. This chapter reports on a study undertaken to assess the effectiveness of a teacher training programme that introduced the teaching of African languages to speakers of other African languages with the goal of producing multicompetent and multivocal teachers. Using a translanguaging approach, pre-service teachers were actively encouraged to use multiple home languages in classroom conversations to offset the linguistic fixity often experienced in traditional monoglossic classrooms. The results of the study show strong evidence for mutual intercomprehensibility, expanded transcultural identities of the speakers and heightened metalinguistic awareness. This chapter compares classroom interactions in multiple languages to an African locus of pluralism, an ancient value system covered by the term ‘ubuntu’, finally concluding that successful teaching of multilingual students depends on an affirmation of the fluid heteroglossic resources that the students bring with them to class. At the end of the chapter, the pedagogical implications of this work for multilingual and super-diverse classrooms are outlined to enable others to use this approach.


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© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Leketi Makalela
    • 1
  1. 1.University of the WitwatersrandJohannesburgSouth Africa

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