‘I can’t really think in English’: Translation as literacy mediation in multilingual/multicultural learning contexts

  • Felix Banda


The article explores some aspects of a study which investigates translation as academic literacy mediation in South Africa’s multilingual/multicultural contexts. The focus is on learners’ translations of academic texts between the L2 and L1, and vice-versa, as a strategy to cope with ESL academic tasks. Using reflection discourse from one-on-one and focus group interviews as well as study group discussion texts, the study uses the New Literacy Studies model of literacy as social practice and aspects of critical discourse analysis to identify some pedagogical implications. One of the conclusions is that although learners are able to ‘translate’ in the sense of swapping labels between the L2 and L1 for the same concept, they are unable to successfully ‘translate’ in the sense of transfer of knowledge/cognitive skills between the L2 and L1, and the reverse. The need for functional use of the L1 and L2, critical cross-cultural awareness and language socialisation, as well as for trained bilingual teachers and literacy mediators, is explored as a way to promote positive difference, and help learners develop strategies to achieve transform/recontextualise knowledge/cognitive skills between the L2 and L1, and vice-versa, in multilingual/multicul-tural contexts.

Author Biography

Felix Banda
Dr Felix Banda is head of the Department of Linguistics at the University of the Western Cape. He has published widely in the field of multilingualism.Email: fbanda@uwc.ac.za