n Journal of Educational Studies - Perspectives of black students on the use of the mother tongue at higher education institutions in South Africa

Volume 12, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1680-7456



Research indicates that mother tongue is an important medium of learning. It is also perceived as a medium of identity formation. The first six years of schooling are critical years in the development of the child. These are the years that are crucial in making certain that the child is educated in a familiar medium. A study was conducted among African students at two institutions, one a formerly white institution, and the other a formerly black institution, to determine the level of usage of their respective mother tongues (African languages) on campus in and outside of the lecture hall.

Language is a situated practice and is reordered differently depending on different spaces. The ethos, culture and character of each institution determine to a large extent how language identities are constructed and actualised. Whilst all students have high regard for mother tongue, those at formerly white higher education (HE) institutions feel that speaking mother tongue there had a discriminatory and negative effect on the non-speakers of the languages. Those at formerly black institutions felt that the dominant mother tongue should be spoken by all irrespective of the language background of students. Students at both institutions agreed that mother tongue had a place in HE, but the spaces where it could be used with ease differed according to the ethos of the institution concerned. Attaching value to the mother tongue by students will influence the success of mother tongue education, and thus can have positive spin-offs in teacher education programmes, influencing the extent to which they will be used in schools.

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