The return to reading: acquisition, reading research on narrative and the implications for a multilingual pedagogy for higher education in South Africa
Balfour, Robert John
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As applied linguists, we still need, given the resurgence of interest and scholarship in multilingualism, to attend to research on developing and changing language pedagogy so that it is informed by cognitive linguistics and psycholinguistics. This article surveys research into bilingual language acquisition and educational linguistics and explores the implications of this work for the development and use of indigenous languages development in South Africa. Five arguments, as listed here, are presented on the basis of this research. First, that grammatical competence develops earlier in bilinguals because the use of two languages encourages an awareness of language systems (syntax and semiotics) such that the grammaticality of language is drawn to the attention of the bilingual learners when differences between two language systems become evident in the way these language are used and even learnt. Second, that the role of vocabulary development is crucial for the successful learning of a target language and such learning becomes more profound when phonology is developed and awareness of pronunciation is reinforced through reading. Third that bilinguals become aware of syntactic differences within languages at an earlier age than do monolingual speakers owing also to language exposure and use. Fourth, that phonological awareness of language use can be developed earlier when two languages are used and further that phonological awareness development is closely correlated to the development of reading skills as sight and sound work together to develop and enhance language awareness in bilingual speakers. Finally, that bi-lingual language reinforcement occurs best through a focus on complex narratives outside as well as inside controlled learning environments. In this regard and within the controlled learning environment (from the early school years to tertiary education level), the teaching of complex narratives is critical for the development of sophisticated reading skills. The article concludes by stating that research on language pedagogy for second language acquisition needs to be revived and further research conducted to account for an understanding of home-language syntax in relation to target-language syntax, and to create the scaffolding to enable learners to make the transitions necessary for effective learning.
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