Do the language errors of ESL teachers affect their learners?

  • Norma Nel
  • Elana Swanepoel


At the University of South Africa (Unisa), a large, open and distance education university in South Africa, the majority of the practising teachers who enrolled as students (henceforth referred to as teacher students) for the practical component of the Advanced Certificate in Education (ACE): Inclusive Education (Learning Difficulties) for the year 2008 lacked English proficiency. Because these students’ primary language is not English, they found it difficult to master this course, as reflected by the low throughput rate of 44 per cent in 2008. The question arose: Does poor proficiency in English of English second-language (ESL) teacher students influence ESL learners’ progress during learner support lessons taught by teacher students as part of their teaching practice for the ACE: Inclusive Education (Learning Difficulties)? In an attempt to answer this question, we report on typical errors made by the learners and the teacher students and similarities between teacher errors and learner errors, against the background of a literature overview which includes the relationship between input and output and prominent theories of second-language acquisition. Departing from a phenomenological/interpretive paradigm, a qualitative analysis of the teacher students’ portfolios was undertaken (Hussey & Hussey, 1997:54). The document analysis was done by means of error analysis of the teacher-student portfolios (which included ESL learner support lessons and ESL learner evidence) that were submitted by the teacher students to Unisa by 1 September 2008. The results of this study are significant because it alerts academia to the fact that qualified practising ESL teachers are not necessarily proficient in English and that this may have an effect on the ESL learner’s ability to acquire English proficiency. However, it was pointed out that several other contributing factors may exist and that further in-depth research is required. Nevertheless, a re-evaluation of teaching methodologies and the upgrading of teacher-students’ levels of cognitive academic language skills are required as a matter of urgency.

Author Biographies

Norma Nel
Norma Nel is a senior lecturer in the Department of Further Teacher Education at the University of South Africa. Her research interests include inclusive education, barriers to learning, English second language and learner support. Email:
Elana Swanepoel
Elana Swanepoel is a senior lecturer in the Department of Business Management at the University of South Africa. Her research interests include the education of English second language business management students, entrepreneurship and management. Email: