Universiteit Leiden

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Lecture | This time for Africa! Series

Medium of instruction in education in Africa: how new questions help generate new answers

Friday 12 November 2021
This Time for Africa!
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden


A productive decolonial perspective on languages and linguistics should lead to new questions, opening up new avenues of research and leading to new answers. In the talk, I will start to question a number of simplifications that are commonly found in the literature: the idea that people either 'speak' or 'do not speak' a language and the idea that there is an average cost of learning (or teaching) a language that is the same across language pairs and for all learners. I will try to demonstrate that these simplifications are inadequate for African settings. Instead, a more nuanced approach is necessary, one that inquires into the desired levels of language learning and that takes account of differences, both in language aptitude of students and of the distance between the L1 and the language that is to be acquired.

The talk will question the assumption that it is possible to provide ever more education in what is essentially a foreign language to ever more African children. It will put forward the idea that it becomes relevant to look at the distance between the L1 and the language that is to be acquired for discussing medium of instruction issues. The talk will end with a focus on the benchmarked Net Edit Distances between language pairs as calculated through the ASJP programme as a tool for assessing this distance. How robust is it and what else needs to be done to foreground the issues brought to light by asking these new questions?

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