Language in a Life Orientation class: Complexities and contradictions
The impact of English as a language of teaching and learning on student access and success at universities in South Africa is well documented. So, too, are the enablements of multilingual strategies and the use of indigenous languages as languages of learning and teaching. The nature of TVET (technical and vocational education and training) student experiences of language is, however, under-researched; hence this article reports on a case study that casts light on such experiences. The case study examined perceptions of student English-language proficiency and the impact of English on student participation and success in Life Orientation, a subject seeking to enhance student academic and life success and resilience. The study found a complex language situation, with poor student performance and English identified as a major barrier. The students did not have English as their mother tongue and rarely spoke it at home, but believed themselves to be proficient in it. Lecturer perceptions of student English-language competence differed markedly from those of the students but also showed contradictory perceptions of student language performance. The students’ blind spot about their competencies militated against their success. The study recommends that rethinking equity and social justice in post-school education should include thinking towards more inclusive language policies that better serve a complex multilingual context.