Radio podcast: University preparedness in the spotlight again

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.

So: here is the link to the podcast:

The interview is in Afrikaans, but I’d be willing to discuss what was said with anyone who is interested, and who may not be fluent in this. Just let me know.

And yes! Tobie and I would very much like to have your feedback too!

RSG potgooi: Voorbereiding vir universiteit

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.

So: as jy nie daarna geluister het nie, hier is ’n skakel na die potgooi.: Die onderhoud is in Afrikaans, maar ons kan ook in Engels daaroor gesels. Skakel gerus.

En ja! Tobie en ek sal graag ook jou terugvoer wil hê!

Albert Weideman presenting at Ghent University

How hot is ‘hot’? How practical can theory be?

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?

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Another angle: examining applied linguistics philosophically

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.

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Review of “Assessing Academic Literacy in a Multicultural Society”: “… an excellent collection of contemporary research”

We are very pleased with the review that Alan Urmston recently wrote in the Journal of English for Academic Purposes. You can read it here: Book review: Assessing Academic Literacy in a Multilingual Society: Transition and Transformation.

Assessing Academic Literacy in a Multilingual Society: A whopping 40% discount …

… but only until 31 March!

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.

Watch the video and then order the book!

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South African language assessment on the map

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.

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Get them in line: language policy, language tests and language teaching

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

Developing one’s own language assessments: taking responsibility, ensuring appropriateness, taking ownership


Singapore Institute of Technology

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