Difficulties in Geography teaching and learning in the ESL classroom in Zimbabwe

  • Erick Nyoni Midlands State University Zimbabwe
  • Vivian Manyike
  • Eleanor Lemmer
Keywords: Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency, interdependence hypothesis, common underlying proficiency, geography instruction, secondary schools, ethnography, Zimbabwe


English second language (ESL) learners in secondary schools in Zimbabwe mediate learning through a second language. This is against best practice, which indicates that learning should be conducted in the learner’s first language. ESL learners are at risk and expected to develop cognitive academic language proficiency (CALP) for academic achievement. Content area teachers need to capacitate ESL learners with CALP to make content comprehensible. Teachers who lack the requisite skills to develop the CALP skills of ESL learners fail to develop the discourse patterns that are attendant to the particular content area disciplines being taught. The study draws on Cummins’ theory of a common underlying proficiency and Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory to establish the difficulties encountered in geography teaching and learning in the ESL classroom. An ethnographic study investigated the teaching of CALP in geography to a selected form 3 class of ESL learners in Zimbabwe to address the research question: What difficulties are encountered in the teaching and learning of geography in an ESL classroom? Data were collected using teacher interviews and classroom observation. The research findings indicate the following: inadequate teacher preparation for the development of CALP among ESL geography learners; limited teacher accommodation of ESL learners’ language needs; lack of a policy framework regarding the use of learners’ first language during geography tuition; negation of the teacher’s role in the development of geography discourse; and lack of skills in the use of instructional media to develop CALP. It is recommended that teachers be trained to develop CALP in content area instruction during pre-service or in-service training for them to assist ESL learners to comprehend content.

Author Biographies

Erick Nyoni, Midlands State University Zimbabwe
Department of Applied Education : Lecturer
Vivian Manyike
Prof Manyike is a Chair of the Department of Language Education Arts and Culture at UNISA in the college of Education. Her area of specialization is in English second language teaching and multicultural/ bilingual education.
Eleanor Lemmer
Eleanor Lemmer is professor emeritus, College of Education, University of South Africa. Her area of specialization is parent-school partners and linguistic diversity in schooling in South Africa.