The Disadvantages of English Language as Medium of Instruction Over a Familiar Zambian Language (Nyanja) for Early Literacy Education in Lusaka District of Zambia. By Sitwe Benson Mkandawire

This article was extracted from a research study and was already published in a Journal of Language Studies. If you want to cite this article, cite it as follows:

Mkandawire, Sitwe Benson (2017). Familiar Language Based Instruction versus Unfamiliar Language for the Teaching of Reading and Writing Skills: A Focus on Zambian Languages and English at two Primary Schools in Lusaka. Zambian Journal of Language Studies, 1(1), 53-82. ISSN: 2415-668X.

The study presented among others, the significance of mother tongue based instruction (Zambian Language) in this case verse English language. The full article can be accessed from this link The following were the main points presented:

  1. Using unfamiliar language such as English for literacy education cripples and destroy the child’s productive and mental processes in education. This view was supported by Benzies (1940) who further noted that using an unknown language for early education as medium of instruction destroys his productive powers and holds his mental abilities. On the other hand, using mother tongue based instruction as a familiar language to a child empowers the child to think, act and processes information faster.
  2. Zambian languages such as Nyanja empowers pupils in class and the local people in general for mass mobilisation and active participation in the democratic and development of the country (Wakumelo, 2011). In other words, local languages empower citizens to participate effectively in economic, cultural, social and political matters of the country as they will be free to express themselves. At classroom level, local languages help a learner express himself freely.
  3. A country is nothing without its culture and local indigenous languages are a vehicle for transmission. Families tell their children different stories in local languages. Those stories constitute proverbs, riddles, myths, taboos and narratives of social conduct, morals and great heroes of their tradition. The languages they use in their homes, let them be used in education to empower learners and value their cultural heritage. Teaching in English language is as good as teaching English culture which differs in some way with Zambian culture. For instance, a woman can marry in English but she cannot in Nyanja or local languages.
  4. Teaching in local languages promotes an educational principle of moving from known to unknown so that a child can link the old with the new knowledge. Local languages promote and develop a sense of belong among citizens as there will be a feeling of closeness with one language, one tongue and one country. Tembo (1975) says it promotes quick learning on the part of learners.
  5. Teaching a child in unknown language burdens the child with two unknown things: The language itself and the subject matter to be learnt.
  6. Local languages facilitate easy access to information for all Zambians not only in class but also the fact that people can defend themselves in courts.
  7. Promoting local languages alongside English at national level will provide opportunity for generations to learn Zambian local languages and see the value attached to local languages.
  8. Promotion of local languages will equally help raise some critical consciousness in pupils and eventually allow Zambians to elect responsible and credible leaders in the country.
  9. Local languages will breaks class silence and the linguistic classes among Zambians and promote unity as more children in schools will become more literate to reason out issues at different levels.
  10. Promoting local languages will promote more employment or jobs for Zambians because more books will need to be written in local languages and media stations will need more people to translate various information.
  11. Allowing pupils to learn in their languages they use when playing allow them to actively participate in class than having passive ones as the case is in most cases in senior classes.
  12. Multilingualism should not be seen as a problem but as an asset as it helps people to look at a problem or issues from different perspectives. Teachers in grade one code switch languages to help learners learn.
  13. In education, some teachers cannot teach confidently because they are very competent and comfortable in using local languages. Many primary school classrooms have been characterized by teachers who do a lot of code switching: that is shifting from English to a Zambian language.
  14. Local languages can contribute to national development as they are a source of communication for the masses. For instance, politicians campaign using the same languages promising and urging communities what they should do to aid development. Local languages empower the masses to take part in many ventures at national level. They unlock thinking abilities in learners in schools and they are a source of cooperation and gives members of the community a sense of unit and identity.


The study made the following recommendation:

  • The government should consider multilingual type of education system so that teachers should be free to translate and interpret information from one language to another in the same classroom. This means increasing the number of languages to be used as medium of instruction for teaching initial literacy in schools.
  • The government should introduce training programmes where teachers learn a variety of language so that they can be posted anywhere. This will make them fit in the bilingual, trilingual or multilingual language in education policies.
  • The government should allow the children write grade seven exams in local languages as the two years to learn English language is too short to warrant one to write an exam.
  • The government to encourage language in complementation kind of policy which is already working in Zambia today informally so that where English fails, Zambian languages can take over and vice versa.



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About Sitwe

Sitwe Benson is a citizen of the world based in Zambia. He publishes academically oriented articles.
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