Language and academic achievement: Perspectives on the potential role of indigenous African languages as a lingua academica

  • Mbulungeni Madiba


Although research literature abounds with studies that show the importance of language for academic achievement, the potential role of indigenous African languages in the educational sector in South Africa has not been adequately appraised or appreciated. Accordingly, ambivalence is still rife among parents, teachers, learners and government about the use of these languages for academic purposes. This ambivalence is evident from the existing national language education policies, school language policies, language curricula and language practices in schools. Thus, the purpose of this article is to discuss the perspectives on the potential role of indigenous African languages for academic purposes in South Africa. The focus is mainly on the use of these languages to provide a scaffold for academic language proficiency which is critical to academic success. To this end, a complementary language-use framework or model for using indigenous African languages to support the development of academic language in multilingual schools and universities is proposed.

Author Biography

Mbulungeni Madiba
Mbulungeni Madiba is an associate professor and co-ordinator of the Multilingualism Education Project in the Centre for Higher Education Development at the University of Cape Town.  He is also the Mandela Fellow at Harvard University. His current research interests include language planning and policy, multilingual education, corpus linguistics, terminology and terminography. Email: