A Critical Analysis of Namibia's English-Only Language Policy

Language Policy was properly introduced after 1990 when Namibia got independence. The aims of the language policy were to address the inequality and injustices from the apartheid regime where and Afrikaans was a dominant language and was elevated above any language in society. Prior to 1990, Afrikaans was used as the official language in Namibia particularly in schools, and learners who spoke Afrikaans were having advantages over non-Afrikaans speaking learners. Only students whose mother tongue was English or Afrikaans were at an advantage.

“English alone certainly cannot promote appreciation nor facilitate the preservation of Namibia’s many indigenous cultures and local languages. In fact, the exclusive use of English in Namibia’s important public domains adequately serves to prevent the learning of Namibian languages, thereby leading to the erosion of these languages, as has been argued by a number of scholars with reference to other African states” (Bamgbose, 1991). According to (Kisting, 2012) state that “English has been the medium of instruction in most of Namibia’s classrooms for nearly 20 years, but with teachers shown to be failing in competency tests.

” According to Kisting (2011) found out that “staggering 98% of Namibian teachers — or 22 089 — cannot read, write and properly speak English well enough. This shows that if learners master the language of instruction, will improve literacy and proficiency in the second language.”

There is a widespread consensus that the English language has failed teachers and they did not master competence. Many learners struggle with the medium of instruction and the limited language skills of teachers endangered the competency them.

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Students’ success in school depends upon there being proficient in the Language of Instruction (Wilkinson & Silliman, 2008). “The LOI carries out a crucial role in learning, as Malekela (2003) reasonably argues if the learner is handicapped in the LOI, then, learning may not take place as the effective instructor and the learner will not be communicating.” The mother tongue as the language of instructions will all the time give the transformation and revival of the mind of the learner. According to (Iikela, 2019) stated that “language policy properly promotes the use of mother tongue as a medium of instruction in the formative years of schooling (Grades 1-3) and its continued use as a school subject in further education”. Therefore, language is a major contributor to the acquisition of any second language.

The Use of Mother Tongue in Classroom Teaching

The policymakers are in expectation of the use of the mother tongue as a medium of instruction in the classroom. The reason behind all this is to create the inductive environment so that learners can be becoming proficient in the medium of instruction. Many children speak a home language that differs from the language of instruction in education programs. Research confirms that “children learn best in their mother tongue as a prelude to and complement of bilingual and multilingual education” (UNESCO, 2011:p 6). The language policy of Namibia requires that every child study at least one indigenous language which is the mother tongue or the dominant language of the broader community in their primary schools. The official recognition of indigenous languages in the education policy is the veritable tool of effective communication and a noble gateway to learning properly. There are some challenges to the effective implementation of the education policy. Some children that go through kindergarten are instructed in English as the medium of instruction and once they reach grade 1, are required to change into the mother tongue. Primary education is more meaningful when conducted in the child’s mother tongue. The language policy of Namibia for the medium of instruction in the school settings should be vividly clear so that learners and teachers may be guided in order to achieve the targeted goals. Properly teaching the learner the content, instructions and key concepts using the mother tongue positively enhances the learner’s cognitive ability, potential exposure, and character development.

The Benefit of Mother Tongue

According to (Fafunwa, 1986) stated that “the best language for good concept formation at a very tender age is the indigenous language”. When children have developed concepts e.g “W” for women, “P” pupil then they will be literacy and proficient. “Mother-tongue instruction should be the best way for children to learn as it bridges the gap between home language and language of instruction. Every language is sufficient enough to give high cognitive skills to its users and there are no major or minor languages. Therefore, mother tongue instruction should be extended as long as possible. A Lingua Franca or a language of wider communication cannot be a substitute for the mother tongue, and it should be avoided until the child fully acquired their mother tongue” (UNESCO, 1953).

Supply of Teachers

Lack of qualified teachers to the medium of instruction languages have contributed significantly to the ineffective implementation of education policy at primary schools across the country. Teaching learners in their mother tongue.

Effective of Mother Tongue as Medium of Instruction

Bloch (1991) opined that “much of our thinking is naturally done through language” and therefore thinking and language is inseparable. “Learning a mother tongue involves constructing grammars consonant with some innately specified system of language universals and testing those grammars against a corpus of observed utterances in some order fixed by an innate simplicity metric. And, of course, there must be a language in which the universals, the candidate grammars, and the observed utterances are represented. And, of course, this language cannot be a natural language since, by the hypothesis, it is his first language that the child is learning” (Fodor, 1975: 58). Gamaroff (1997) correctly stated that “we cannot learn a language or anything unless we already possess an internal language” and this is the mother tongue which helps to positively enhance to acquire other languages. According to Cummins(1980) opined that “although BICS (Basic Interpersonal and Communicative Skills) and Cognitive and Academic Language Proficiency (CALP) is the foundation of CALP and all healthy human beings automatically ‘acquire’ BICS in their mother tongue. Basic interpersonal and communicative skills do play a significant role in the effective development of cognitive and academic language proficiency.” Deyi (2011) found out that “language and conceptualization are deeply interrelated in that once the language of a learner is fully developed for knowledge processing it enables the learner to access concepts in areas of learning with understanding. For learners to have a full grasp of concepts, they need a language. When students learn in a language in which they are familiar, they are able to develop higher-order concepts and are better able to achieve academic success.”

According to Cummins (1980) stated that “attainment of cognitive-academic language proficiency or CALP, is necessary for children to succeed in the “context-reduced, cognitively demandingly activities of reading, writing, mathematics, science, and other school subjects. It is best achieved by building on the linguistic base language-minority children bring to school, rather than eagerly trying to replace it. Native-language instruction is much more than an interim carrier of subject-matter content. Language is the effective means through which the conceptual and communicative proficiency that underlies both [native-language] and English literacy is developed.”

Mother Tongue and Acquisition

He further specified that bilingual children are likely to be more efficient and effective in developing L2 if they are equipped with many L1 competencies such as concept knowledge.

Cummins (1991) stated bilingual children are likely to be more efficient and effective in developing L2 if they are equipped with L1 competencies such as conceptual knowledge.” Some academic research has wisely suggested that “L1 becomes the factual basis of L2 development” (August& Shanahan, 2008). According to Torrance, Gowan, Wu, and Aliotti (1970) also point out that “limited academic and linguistic proficiency of bilingual students in either L1 or L2 is due to lack of L1 school support.” Bialystok and Hakuta (1994, p.11) stated that “the mother tongue provides the linguistic context, and it shapes not only the general principles of language acquisition but also the specific route one takes when attempting to master a particular language” (p. 11). Oketani (1997) stated that “L1 (Japanese) reading proficiency positively predicted both L2 (English) reading proficiency and educational outcomes as a whole.”

“Mother tongue has an edge instruction for higher learning and cognitive development of children and it is proven that children who have developed fluency in their mother tongue can also acquire other languages more easily” (Cummins, 1979, 1986; Tomas & Collier, 2002). According to Gamaroff (1997) stated that “to attain CALP in a first language, one must first know BICS in the first language. One of the causes of cognitive stagnation is the lack or proper use of BICS in the home and school. A crucial point is that a high level of BICS in a particular language does not necessarily lead) a high level of CALP in the same language.” According to Singh (2013) stated that “mother tongue instructions help not only to develop high-level learning but the same time, to helps to revitalize and preserve languages and culture which are on the verge of extinction.”

Learning and Acquisition

According to Crawford (1987) stated that “what counts are the quality of second-language exposure, not the quantity. A limited-English-proficient child placed in a “sink or swim” classroom primarily hears a noise. With contextual clues–such as having a lesson first taught in the mother language–English input becomes more comprehensible.” According to Krashen (1989) stated that “speaking per se does not cause language acquisition, but is a result of it, a possible result of obtaining comprehensible input. Language teaching should be based on giving people messages they understand the lesson.”

Psychological Impediments

According to Krashen (1989:p. 73,75) stated that “we acquire language by understanding messages” and not by learning in a classroom.


According to Krashen (1989:p. 73, 75) stated that academic skills learned in one language need not be relearned when instruction shifts to a second language. Such traditionally is the case for mathematics and social studies, as well as literacy skills. The full range of proficiencies involved in the ability to read appears to transfer readily. A Lack of English proficiency(LEP) child who has kept up in mathematics through Spanish instruction, for example, will benefit doubly when adequately studying the subject in a “sheltered English” classroom. He will but only get more mathematics; he’ll get more English” than an academic counterpart who is behind in mathematics.”

 Developmental Psychology

According to Skinner (1957) “argued that infants continue to produce and to learn the properties of language that are positively reinforced by the child’s caregivers and other members of the child’s social community”.

Behaviorist Theories

According to Skinner (1957) stated that a “child who produces sounds adapts those sounds to the environment as a consequence of selective reinforcement by his or her social surroundings.” Mowrer (1960) explained that primary reinforcement occurs through hearing sounds in pleasant situations and does not assume any kind of reward, secondary reinforcement is based on the child’s desire to imitate, which is driven by the satisfaction gained from the act of repetition.” According to (Fries 1945; Lado 1957) stated that “existing structures created in the learning of a first language are employed in L 2 acquisition. It is taken that similar structures in both languages facilitate acquisition in the second language because they can be transferred, whereas the presence of different structures gives rise to more difficulties in the acquisition of the second language.”

Nativist Theories

According to Chomsky (1965) “reasonably argued that children naturally have an innate grasp of how language works. Language input activates their inborn capacity for learning a language; their learning is internally guided.” Oskaar (1987) stated that “learning occurs without positive reinforcement, that speaking is always uncontrolled by a stimulus and that the key concept of reinforcement cannot explain the speed of language acquisition and the stability of acquired meaning. “Maternal language is specifically human and has a biological basis, that language acquisition is impossible without a language environment and that the inner preconditions contributed by the child and the environmental factors” (Grimm and Weinert 2002: p. 537). According to Cummins (1984:p.196) “assumes that the second language is developed on the basis of an intact first language, that children that do not have an intact first language when they begin to learn the second language will have difficulties in acquiring the second language and that competence in the second language is dependent on the level of development of the first language.”

According to Beller (2008:p.6) correctly stated that “if competence in the mother tongue has reached the CALP level when learning begins with the second language, this competence can be transferred to the second language and the child can participate effectively in lessons held in the second language. “But if the CALP level in the mother tongue has been unreached when a child starts school, this not only has a negative effect on school performance but the limited language competence also influences the possibility of fostering the second language”(Cummins, 1984). Barnes et al. (1983) found that the “quantity of the language used to address the child had positive effects on grammar and semantics.” Huttenlocher et al. (2002) showed that “children whose teachers used complex sentences more frequently were more advanced in the use of complex sentences than them whose educators properly spoke in more coherent sentences.” Huttenlocher et al. (1991) “demonstrated that the considerable quantity of language input possesses an incredibly significant predictive force for the child’s potential acquisition of vocabulary.” Hart and Risley (1995), found out that “sufficient amount of verbal interaction between parents and children remain the most effective influence on the language development of the child.”

In conclusion, Beller (2008:p.6) stated that “L 2 acquisition is a direct result of the learner’s mental abilities and verbal environment, which enables the L 2 learner to acquire communicative and linguistic aspects of the target language.”

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A Critical Analysis of Namibia's English-Only Language Policy. (2020, Sep 08). Retrieved from http://studymoose.com/a-critical-analysis-of-namibias-english-only-language-policy-essay

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