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Emergent biliteracy in children: 'The benefits are huge'

26 September 2023 6:10 PM
Emergent biliteracy in children

Growing up with more than one language will NOT confuse your children.

Pippa Hudson was in conversation with senior lecturer in Applied Language and Literacy Studies at the University of Cape Town, Dr Xolisa Guzula.

The Centre for Early Childhood Development will be hosting its national conference in Cape Town from 27 -29 September 2023.

The ‘Quality Early Childhood Development in South Africa: A Call to Action’ Conference aims to connect stakeholders, share knowledge and information, inspire engagement and act for quality ECD in South Africa.

ECD is meant to aid children from birth to seven years of age to reach their full cognitive, emotional, social and physical potential.

One of the discussions taking place at the conference will be around the emergent biliteracy in children.

Emergent biliteracy is when young children (whose home language isn’t English) continue to develop their home language, while also learning an additional language. This leads to the potential of them becoming bilingual or multilingual in school.

© chuchiko1710/
© chuchiko1710/

South Africa is a diverse country, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that there are a number of households where children are taught more than one language.

Over the years there have been myths about raising a bilingual child, and these myths have discouraged many parents.

Some of the myths include:

• Growing up with more than one language confuses children

• Raising a child to be bilingual leads to speech delays

• Bilingual children end up mixing the two languages

Guzula debunks these myths, saying there are many advantages to having your child speak more than one language.

But what happens when your child enters primary school and the choice needs to be made about what language they will be taught in? In most cases, it's either between English and Afrikaans.

Guzula advises that teachers build on the home experiences of these children and calibrate the curriculum.

She believes that if teachers can expose children to multilingual language and literature experiences, children will flourish.

My advice to them [teachers] firstly, is to re-orient their own thinking from monolingual thinking to multilingual thinking. If we do force them [children] to be monolingual, we run a risk of silencing the learners in the classroom. When we silence them, we run the risk of also positioning them with a deficit and saying that they don't participate in class, they don't know how to express themselves.

Dr Xolisa Guzula, University of Cape Town

Scroll up to listen to the full conversation.

26 September 2023 6:10 PM
Emergent biliteracy in children

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