How prepared are new students for the language demands of higher education? This was again scrutinized in an interview today that Ina Strydom conducted with Tobie van Dyk and me. The topic: academic literacy. Ina Strydom presents the very popular radio programme ‘Taaldinge’ on RSG (Radio Sonder Grense) every Sunday morning, and we were astonished at the amount of positive feedback we received from both those who knew us and from complete strangers.
Is nuwe aankomelinge taalgereed vir universiteit? Dit was vandag weer in die kollig in ’n onderhoud wat Ina Strydom met my en Tobie van Dyk gevoer het oor “Akademiese geletterdheid”. Ina Strydom bied die populêre radioprogram ‘Taaldinge’ elke Sondagoggend aan op RSG (Radio Sonder Grense). Ons was verstom oor die baie positiewe terugvoer wat ons van bekendes en vreemdelinge ontvang het.
When Kees de Bot asked a few hundred applied linguists in 2015 whether they needed to have a theory of the field, he found that they thought they did not (De Bot, K. 2015. A history of applied linguistics: From 1980 to the present. London: Routledge). Are they missing something?
Language assessment is a subfield of applied linguistics. That sounds like a reasonably incontestable statement. But can we simply assume that language assessment is a subfield of applied linguistics? In examining what has been written about that, we find that the claim is widespread — in fact since the earliest times, when applied linguistics was being established by the likes of Pit Corder and Alan Davies more than 50 years ago. Even to this day, language assessment scholars like McNamara make the claim quite confidently.
There is a publisher’s discount on the book that I, John Read and Theo du Plessis have recently edited for Multilingual Matters. It is entitled Assessing academic literacy in a multilingual society: Transition and transformation.
Assessing academic literacy in a multilingual society: Transition and transformation has just appeared in print from Multilingual Matters. I was privileged to co-edit this with the highly experienced John Read of the University of Auckland and my former head of department, Theo du Plessis.
As further contributors there were Tobie van Dyk (NWU), Alan Cliff (UCT), Colleen du Plessis (UFS), Avasha Rambiritch (UP), Kabelo Sebolai (SU), Laura Drennan (UFS), Jo-Mari Myburgh-Smit (UFS), Sanet Steyn (UCT), and a number of co-contributors to some chapters, including Linda Alston, Marien Graham (both UP), Piet Murre (Driestar Hogeschool) and Herculene Kotze (NWU). Most of them are steeped professionally in designing academic literacy interventions and assessments.
The journalist and scholar H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) once observed that “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” One would think that academic literacy, the ability to use academic language competently, would be the first and only language concern of the academic communities that make up the university. Such is the complexity of language problems, however, that not all solutions for them will have to do with making education and study more effective. Student communities may, for example, make language demands that are primarily politically inspired, and have little bearing on scholarship. When decision-makers yield to the politically expedient solution, that solution may be rationalized in many ways that might have the pretence of having to do with education, but that actually has no theoretical justification. There are at least two recent cases in South Africa where the language policies of universities were changed for reasons other than academic ones, with negative consequences that were foreseen, but ignored. Continue reading →
There is something reassuring for university administrators and decision-makers in using the results of large-scale tests. They seldom worry about their contextual appropriateness, or about their cost, or even enquire about their quality. The large reach of the test in their minds ensures its reputation. As to costs? Well, the argument goes, if students wish to undertake studies at this university, they must be prepared to pay for that privilege. Continue reading →
Christo van Rensburg, who died last week, was not only one of South Africa’s leading linguists, but also a considerable influence on my own work. It was particularly his voluminous report on Griqua Afrikaans that first brought him fame. My own debt to him is manifold: not only was he the supervisor of my doctoral thesis, but after he had set up and directed what eventually became known as the Unit for Academic Literacy at the University of Pretoria, he was instrumental in having me appointed as his successor. Continue reading →