Original Research

How language challenges affect the behaviour of immigrant learners in the Foundation Phase at three schools in Gauteng, South Africa

Vusiwana C. Babane
South African Journal of Childhood Education | Vol 10, No 1 | a868 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajce.v10i1.868 | © 2020 Vusiwana C. Babane | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 24 April 2020 | Published: 17 December 2020

About the author(s)

Vusiwana C. Babane, Department of Educational Psychology, Faculty of Education, University of the Western Cape, Cape Town, South Africa


Background: The education of immigrant children is influenced by many factors that emanate from global socio-economic and political issues. In the South African education system, teachers do not have guidelines on how to include immigrant children from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds. The question that arose was ‘what effect does poor language proficiency have on immigrant learners’ psychosocial development?’

Aim: This study focused on how language challenges experienced by immigrant children influence their relationships with themselves and others in the learning environment. The second objective was to find out how teachers are coping with immigrant learners.

Setting: Learners were purposively selected from former Model C Foundation Phase classrooms in three selected schools in Gauteng province, South Africa. Former Model C schools are schools that accepted only white children prior to the early 1990s.

Methods: This study uses an interpretive research paradigm with thematic analysis of data from focus group interviews and individual interviews. Participants were 48 Foundation Phase learners, 24 female educators and three school principals.

Results: The results suggest that language barriers create a vicious cycle of negative emotions and unhealthy interactive patterns between immigrant and local children. Immigrant learners experience cognitive and social inhibition, isolation and bullying by the local learners.

Conclusion: There are implications for the integration of psychosocial content in teaching a language. This could empower Foundation Phase teachers with guidelines for teaching English to all second language learners in a way that fosters positive adjustment of immigrant children and prosocial behaviour in the learning environment.


identity formation; prosocial behaviour; bullying; intrapersonal; interpersonal; psychosocial well-being; funds of knowledge; social identity


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