Vol 25 No 2 (2016): Nordic Journal of African Studies
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Ideologies Shaping Language Choices: Views of African Students on Isizulu Modules in Higher Education at the University of Kwazulu-Natal

Thabile A. Mbatha
Nordic Journal of African Studies
Published June 30, 2016


The article presents reasons for African language students’ choices of either taking or not taking isiZulu mother tongue modules at one Higher Education Institution (HEI). The research was prompted by a student’s comment: “Who would like to be taught by a teacher taught in Zulu?” The study utilises the social identity theory as its theoretical framework and adopts Pavlenko and Blackledge’s (2004) post-structuralist approach to understanding identities in exploring language choices in multilingual contexts. Focus group and one-on-one interviews were conducted to collect data from twenty five students enrolled in one HEI that offers three isiZulu Foundation Phase specialisation modules in a dual medium Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) Foundation Phase (FP) programme, and first-year science students registered on the same campus. Findings revealed a perceptible resistance to mother tongue modules, fuelled by a fear of being unable to teach English as the language mostly used in education, and a lack of information about the role of the mother tongue in education. The students’ sentiments towards isiZulu revealed negative mixed feelings and beliefs surrounding taking modules in their mother tongue, contrary to the perception of this validating their identity. Choices were not made in the light of the mother tongue as a crucial identifier of connectedness, rootedness and belonging and as a basis for literacy development. The study recommends that HEIs should prioritise the need to inform all stakeholders about the importance of using mother tongue as a gateway to accessing education through indigenous languages.