n Language Matters : Studies in the Languages of Southern Africa - The language of pictures : visual literacy and print materials for Adult Basic Education and Training (ABET)

Volume 35, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 0256-5986



The ability to understand (`read') pictures, is often taken for granted as an inherent human ability. In South Africa, with its great educational and development needs and low adult literacy rate, pictures and illustrations are widely used in educational materials aimed at readers with minimal reading skills, and rightly so. However this usage often seems to be based on the assumption that non-verbal visual images are a universal language that every sighted person can interpret. This is not always the case. Images on paper are essentially arrangements of lines and shapes on a flat surface ± symbols which make up visual language representing objects in a threedimensional world. Reading pictures is a cognitive skill and to understand a picture correctly, the viewer must know certain conventions. However, arriving at a definition of visual literacy is problematic and there is a lack of unified theory on the interpretation of visuals by low-literate South African audiences, and therefore little strategy on teaching visual literacy in Adult Basic Education and Training (ABET) programmes in South Africa. This article reviews literature on, and research into, visual literacy and adult basic education, in order to attempt a definition of visual literacy that is relevant to adult learners and Adult Basic Education practitioners in contemporary South Africa.

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