Bilingual and biliterate? An exploratory study of Grade 8 reading skills in Setswana and English

  • DS Matjila
  • Elizabeth Pretorius


In this paper we present findings from a pilot study that examined the reading abilities in Setswana and English of Grade 8 learners, and their literacy practices and attitudes. In the light of these research findings, it is argued that unless learners are provided with meaningful opportunities to develop their reading skills and are exposed to reading materials in both languages on a regular basis from an early age, they will be inadequately prepared to cope with the high literacy demands of the twenty-first century. What is needed is a meaningful school reading programme geared towards exposing learners to books and helping them develop skilful reading strategies so that they can ‘read to learn’ more effectively.

Author Biographies

DS Matjila
D Sekepe Matjila is a senior lecturer in the Department of African languages at Unisa, where  he teaches Setswana language and literature. He has presented papers nationally and internationally on Education in Multilingual Setting as well as on biliteracy and bilingualism in South Africa. He is currently doing literacy research at four disadvantaged schools in Pretoria. The research involves an intervention study based on the effects of a reading programme on the literacy practices and reading skills of Setswana learners in high school.DS Matjila, Department of  African Languages, PO Box 392, Unisa, Pretoria  0003.
Elizabeth Pretorius
Elizabeth (Lilli) Pretorius is a senior lecturer in the Department of Linguistics at Unisa. Her fields of interest include psycholinguistics, text linguistics, second language learning and teaching, and reading.  She is head of the Academic Literacy Research Unit (ALRU) at Unisa. For the past few years she has been involved in several research-cum-community projects in disadvantaged areas, involving family literacy at preschool level, and reading programmes at primary and high schools. Dr EJ Pretorius, Department of Linguistics, PO Box 392, Unisa, Pretoria  0003.