Original Research

Barriers and bridges between mother tongue and English as a second language in young children

Nora E. Saneka, Marike de Witt
South African Journal of Childhood Education | Vol 9, No 1 | a516 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajce.v9i1.516 | © 2019 Nora E. Saneka, Marike de Witt | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 12 December 2016 | Published: 17 April 2019

About the author(s)

Nora E. Saneka, Department of Psychology of Education, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa
Marike de Witt, Department of Psychology of Education, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa

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Background: Social and economic aspirations held by parents can reflect a desire for their children to learn English as a second language. Bilingual education has the potential for empowering traditionally disadvantaged groups, particularly through competence in English, a language that positions identity with power, privilege and status, thus being a political and an economic issue.

Aim: The aim was to look critically at the language development of young second-language learners within their social context.

Setting: An early childhood centre in Durban, South Africa.

Methods: Methodologically, a qualitative praxeological framework was used. Parent partnership in sustaining the mother tongue was sought and explored in focus group interviews, using an action–reflection cycle to understand the dilemma of young second-language learners in South Africa. Ways of overcoming language barriers using the strengths of the child were explored using persona dolls. These methods helped to develop sustained, shared thinking between children, their parents and the researcher.

Results: Young children found their own means of engaging in meaning-making processes both at home and at school. The issue of linguicism was tackled by encouraging parental participation in sustaining the mother tongue while children learned English as a second language.

Conclusion: As long as English means access to improved economic opportunities, there will be a bias against those whose home language is not English. The dilemma of the young English language learner remains an issue of equity, access and redress for past injustices.


parent participation; the young second-language learner; the right to participation; socio-constructivism; critical constructivism; praxeological research


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