‘Languages don’t have bones, so you can just break them’: rethinking multilingualism in education policy and practice in Africa

by Colin Reilly, Mompoloki M. Bagwasi, Tracey Costley, Hannah Gibson, Nancy C. Kula, Gastor Mapunda and Joseph Mwansa

21 Jun 2022
Journal of the British Academy
Digital Object Identifier
Number of pages
20 (pp. 1-20)

Abstract: Multilingualism is widespread amongst individuals and communities in African countries. However, language-in-education policies across the continent continue to privilege monolingual approaches to language use in the classroom. In this paper we highlight the colonial origins of these monolingual ideologies and discuss the detrimental effects which arise when learners’ linguistic repertoires are not welcomed within the education system. We draw attention to major themes within education across a range of contexts: policy vagueness, teachers as policy implementers, and the creation and imposition of boundaries. We advocate for a language-in-education approach which brings the outside in, which welcomes individuals’ lived multilingual realities and which values these as resources for learning. We highlight the ways in which translanguaging could represent a positive shift to the way in which multilingual language practices are talked about, and can contribute to decolonising language policy in African contexts. We conclude by calling to action those working on education and policy to ensure that learners and teachers are better supported. We call ultimately for a rethinking of multilingualism.

Keywords: multilingualism, translanguaging, access, language policy, language-supportive pedagogies, Africa.

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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