Although multilingualism is the norm in most countries of the world, monolingualism has become the hegemonic mindset. In higher education in South African it has become imperative to give preference to a mindset that recognises our multilingual reality by drawing on students’ strongest languages while supporting them to study through medium of a second language. An overview is given of a number of theories and models of bilingualism and bilingual education that have attempted to underpin linguistically flexible approaches to the acquisition of academic literacy in a ‘weaker’ language (L2), while drawing on cognitive abilities acquired in the ‘stronger’ language (L1). I then zoom in on the process by which bi- and multilingual students draw on all their linguistic resources to create meaning during learning opportunities – a process that has become known as ‘translanguaging’. Although a number of empirical studies on translanguaging were conducted in South Africa during the past 15 years, none of them focused on determining students' opinions about translanguaging as a pedagogical strategy and a vehicle for the development of terminology, particularly in African languages. Consequently, a study of restricted scope was conducted in the first semester of 2015; it included speakers of African languages and Afrikaans. The opinions of the speakers of African languages were elicited on both translanguaging and terminologisation, while Afrikaans L1 speakers’ opinions were only elicited on the strategy of translanguaging. The majority of respondents reported experiencing cognitive and affective benefits. Despite reservations among some African language speakers about complexity and dialectical variation as barriers, the majority was positive about using translanguaging as a platform for creating technical terms in African languages. A logical next step is to investigate translanguaging strategies – both from a lecturer and a student perspective – in a systematic way. My vision for the Unit for Academic Literacy (UAL) is to collaborate with other departments in devising strategies that may enhance both acquisition planning and corpus planning by drawing on students' full linguistic repertoires, and simultaneously contribute towards the intellectualisation of African languages.
Inaugural address by Professor Adelia Carstens, Director of the Unit for Academic Literacy, Faculty of Humanities