Linguistic challenges faced by rural Tshivenda-speaking teachers when Grade 4 learners transition to English
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The general complaint of teachers in rural monolingual communities is that teaching becomes problematic after learners are promoted to Grade 4. While the transition to a next academic phase places new cognitive demands on the learners, they must also adjust to being taught in English after 3 years of mother tongue education. This qualitative case study was underpinned by Krashen’s theory of second-language acquisition which emphasises the importance of exposure to and interaction in the target language. Six Grade 4 teachers who are mother tongue speakers of Tshivenda and two curriculum advisors participated in the study. Data were collected through individual interviews and classroom observations. Initially, it was assumed that the transition was problematic, because learners’ English proficiency was inadequate, but teachers too struggled to impart academic content to Grade 4 learners and relied heavily on code switching. This strategy contributed to learners’ understanding of content, but militated against any improvement in their English. The remoteness of this rural monolingual community implies a limited exposure to the target language, but ought not to be reckoned an excuse. Means to build teachers’ linguistic confidence and improve their oral proficiency during initial teacher preparation as well as greater in-service support should ameliorate the transition for learners. A revision of the mother tongue Foundation Phase curriculum and monitored implementation is advisable.