In South Africa, introductory accounting students for whom English is an additional language
face two linguistic barriers. Besides dealing with the social practices of communicating in
academic English as the medium of instruction in higher education, students studying in
English as an additional language (EAL) also have to acquire the language of accounting.
The rationale for this thesis is threefold: first, it is based on my personal experience, as well
as research findings by other scholars, regarding the linguistic barriers facing first-year
accounting students with EAL; second, it is my perception that in the context of accounting
education, language learning is mainly viewed as a neutral instrument of communication,
which students studying in EAL are expected to master through remedial academic literacy
courses; and third, there are very few empirical studies in the discipline of accounting that
investigate the social and cognitive dimensions of language in the learning of accounting
and that considers it the responsibility of accounting educators to make the norms and
context of accounting language apparent to students.
The purpose of this research was to consider the impact of social and cognitive dimensions
of language in the learning of introductory accounting in English as an additional language.
The theoretical framework combines an Interactionist perspective of Second Language
Acquisition, which considers the social environment in which learning takes place, with
Cognitive Load Theory (CLT) and the Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning (CTML). CLT
accounts for students’ prior knowledge (including language proficiency) levels when designing effective instructional practices, and the CTML is based on the assumption that
learning is enhanced when we build mental representations from words and pictures. A
mixed methods design was used, comprising a qualitative interview analysis and two
Three independent yet related studies were conducted to fulfil the main aim of the research.
The first study (chapter 2) explores the individual and social learning experiences of firstyear
accounting students studying in EAL. The findings highlight the importance of formal
and social interaction for students with EAL to deal effectively with the academic literacy
requirements of studying accounting in the first year at university. The outcomes of the
interview study provided the impetus for the two experimental studies that consider the
effectiveness of different instructional practices in assisting students with diverse language
backgrounds to access the language used in introductory accounting topics.
The first experiment (chapter 3) tested the effect of using everyday language versus
accounting language and the provision of formulas on students’ ability to transfer their
knowledge of basic Cost-Volume-Profit analysis to application problems. The results
indicate that students with EAL benefit more from the use of everyday language than
students with English as a first language. The optimal condition for transfer performance
was providing everyday language without formulas.
For the second experiment (chapter 4), a whiteboard animation was created to explain the
concepts in the accounting equation by means of pictures and coloured blocks. The
instructional efficiency of the animation was tested using a voice-over PowerPoint
presentation as the control. All students enjoyed the animation more than the control
presentation. The animation reduced the extraneous cognitive load of Grade 12 accounting
students with EAL. The effect of both the test and control presentations were more beneficial
for Grade 12 accounting students with EAL and for students without Grade 12 accounting.
The findings have implications for accounting educators in recognising the social and
cognitive aspects of language use on learning in introductory accounting, particularly for
students studying in EAL. This awareness should translate into pedagogical practices being
adapted to accommodate the learning needs of students studying accounting through EAL.