Learning literacy in a familiar language: comparing reading and comprehension competence in Bemba in two contrasting settings in Northern Zambia

by Nancy C. Kula and Joseph Mwansa

21 Jun 2022
Journal of the British Academy
Digital Object Identifier
Number of pages
28 (pp. 97-124)

Abstract: The latest language in education policy in Zambia is to use a ‘familiar’ language in the initial stages of education before transitioning into a regional and later foreign language medium. Investigating the use of a familiar language—Namwanga—in Northern Zambia, in the context of a regional language—Bemba—the article shows that learning of literacy in the regional language is better supported by classrooms that allow free use of the ‘home’ language or mother tongue. Results from a reading and comprehension task show no hindrance to the achievement of reading fluency in a regional language when a familiar language is encouraged in the classroom. The article provides support for multi-literacies developed through languages that learners are exposed to in their environment rather than a foreign language.

Keywords: Medium of instruction, familiar language, literacy, multi-literacies, reading fluency, regional language, mother tongue, Zambia.

Article posted to Journal of the British Academy, volume 10, supplementary issue 4 (Rethinking Multilingualism: Education, Policy and Practice in Africa).

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