Original Research

Contradictions within an activity of second language reading literacy

Sonja Brink, Carisma Nel
South African Journal of Childhood Education | Vol 9, No 1 | a687 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajce.v9i1.687 | © 2019 Sonja Brink, Carisma Nel | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 22 August 2018 | Published: 19 November 2019

About the author(s)

Sonja Brink, Centre for Education Practice Research, University of Johannesburg, Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa
Carisma Nel, Centre for Education Practice Research, University of Johannesburg, Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa; and, Faculty of Education, School of Languages in Education, North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa

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Background: In investigating the early reading literacy of a group of Setswana-speaking children who learnt to read in Afrikaans, cultural historical activity theory (CHAT) was chosen as a conceptual framework because of its proven utility value in helping researchers make sense of complex social systems.

Aim: The application of this heuristic not only proved valuable as organising principle but also unexpectedly revealed the situation with a clarity that brought about a richer understanding of the intricate dynamics underlying reading literacy in a second language.

Setting: The study was conducted at a small-town Afrikaans medium school.

Methods: In this mixed method inquiry, qualitative data was collected through interviews with parents and educators, classroom observations and document analysis. The quantitative data was obtained through the administering of an early reading literacy assessment.

Results: The overarching finding of this study was that the Setswana-speaking children developed early reading literacy skills at a rate and level commensurate with that of their Afrikaans-speaking peers. Where the application of CHAT as heuristic proved invaluable was in bringing to light a pattern revealing the agency which was exercised by parents and educators to support the children’s reading literacy learning.

Conclusion: Despite various obstacles and tensions, parents and teachers exercise considerable agency in supporting the children’s early reading literacy. Although the empirical aspects of the study are described, it is a conceptual gaze of the situation, employing CHAT as a lens, which is the focus of this article.


early reading literacy; second language learning; cultural historical activity theory; CHAT; Setswana-speaking; Afrikaans


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