In the second issue of Literacy Matters magazine, Dr. Agatha J. van Ginkel’s has published the article “Multilingual Readers, Transition Issues in Multilingual Settings”, which discusses the key role that multilingualism plays in students’ literacy and education in Uganda. Her article presents two important concepts about the relationship between the home language and English.
Dr. van Ginkel presents the interdependence hypothesis as the argument that “in bilingual development, language and literacy skills can be transferred from one language to another.” (van Ginkel, par 3) Uganda has updated its education policy to leave space for both languages in its curriculum. But alongside interdependence, there is the threshold theory, where it has been found that a child must have a foundation in their home language, or mother tongue, that enables the transfer to occur smoothly to a second language. And van Ginkel questions whether the current policies in Uganda are enough to facilitate such transitions. The author also challenges the widely held belief that with language learning earlier is better.
The second concept the article presents is the importance of understanding the difference between conversational language and academic language. van Ginkel explains the different ways that these languages are retained by students and that the research in Uganda would suggest children need five or six more years of their home language at the current rate of learning. Citing Marianne Nikolov’s paper, “An Early Start: Young Learners and Modern Languages in Europe and Beyond” from 2000, van Ginkel explains that without the proper classroom environment that prepares students for introduction to the second language, early introductions can actually do more harm than good.
Given the good progress that has happened with the language policy in Ugandan schools, further research into the impact of bilingualism in early education and strategic improvements to curriculum will bring additional progress towards more beneficial literacy in both home languages and English as a second language.
Article: van Ginkel, Agatha. “Multilingual Readers, Transition Issues in Multilingual Settings.” Language Matters. July 2016. Issue 2. Page 8