If you want to cite this article, use this:
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 article is a product of a research conducted to establish the educational value associated with mother tongue based instruction that is familiar to learners verses other languages such as English and local languages that are not familiar to learners as medium of instruction in the teaching of reading and writing literacy skills to grade one at primary level. This was a case study under qualitative research design of post-positivism knowledge generation paradigm. Data was collected from 67 respondents from two primary schools where at one school they used Nyanja as medium of instruction while at another school they used English language. The specific methods used to collect data were done through interviews, focus group discussions and observation of lessons. Some documents were also reviewed on the study related to the topic at hand. The study revealed that both Zambian languages (Nyanja) and English language played a significant role in literacy education as they both facilitated learning to some pupils and they were also a hindrance to some pupils. However, it was noted that children could not actively participate in the lessons offered in English language and they were more active in a Nyanja lesson. Furthermore, children could actively participate in answering teacher’s questions by using common Nyanja spoken in towns and cities when playing and not the chewa taught in schools. It is recommended that teachers at primary school level teaching grade ones should use multiple languages by translating statements, words and phrases from one language to the others which are spoken by pupils in class. This will easily help pupils to understand teaching points easily and would break into reading and writing skills faster.



The Zambian education system recognizes a four-tier kind of hierarchy: Pre-school, Primary, Secondary and Ends at Tertiary level. It is characterized by what Banda (2008) calls a broad base type of education starting with formal primary level with a broad base surface and high levels of enrolments and ending with higher education levels with a sharp apex where there are few people completing tertiary levels of education. The drop out starts from primary school to senior secondary school is caused by a number of factors. Among these factors include huge numbers of pupils enrolled at primary level which cannot have adequate attention from the teachers on one to one basis every time they are in class. The methods and strategies used to teach these children on how to read and write might equally be faulty that could lead to pupils dropping out of school. Limited teaching and learning materials are all contributing to low literacy levels and massive dropout. Ill trained teachers is also be a major factor in the education system and finally the language of initial literacy instruction might be another major factor because if pupils are taught in a language (Zambian language or English) that they do not understand, it will always be a challenge for that learner to quickly learn how to read and write and eventually they might dropout from school.  The factors stated above would partly hinder learners to break through to reading and writing skills in most primary schools in Zambia.

Despite the factors stated above, more attention has been given issues of language and methodology used to teach multilingual classes. The questions are on which language of instruction is more appropriate for initial literacy education. Dakin (1968) contended that it does not really matter whether the child receives education through the medium of foreign language or his mother tongue. Scholars with this line of thought argued that if a foreign language attains the status of a second language and is given much power, it would be used as medium of instruction in education and the role it would play would be as good as the child’s mother tongue (Nkosha, 1995). These views were further supported by Groebel (1980) who conducted a study to establish if the level of reading comprehension in student’s mother tongue was the same or correlated with the level of reading comprehension in English language using a sample of first year university students who spoke Hebrew as mother tongue. The findings of this study were that a significant positive correlation did exist between a student’s level of reading comprehension in his mother tongue and his level of reading comprehension in a foreign language, English in this case.  It is, therefore, doubtful whether such evidence can be used to support the use of English language as medium of instruction to a grade one pupil in Zambian schools.

In reaction to Dakin and Groebel’s assertions, Benzies (1940), one of the earliest scholars who wrote in defence of the use of mother tongue as medium of instruction in Education, had this to say:

It is a universally acknowledged principle in modern education that a child should receive instruction both in and through his mother tongue and this privilege should not be withheld from the African child (Benzies, 1940 as quoted by Nkosha 1995:13).

Furthermore, using a language that is not known to the child as medium of instruction in school cripples and destroy his productive powers and it also holds back his mental and cognitive powers and processes. In most multilingual states in post-colonial nations in the early years of their independence, the government’s resolve to pick a second language such as English as the case was for Zambia, Kenyan and Malawi.  Simwiinga (2003:5) noted that “the reasons for selecting English as medium of instruction and for official use was for political expediency and not sociolinguistic one”.  This view was further stated by Ohannessian and Kashoki (1978) who noted that:

After independence, there was a new emphasis on English language. … The reasons behind all these were partly political and partly practical. On one hand, politicians striving for national unit, for suppression of tribalism, for rapid industrialisation and accelerated economic development…. On the other hand, the vast majority of the people wanted to enter quickly into material civilisation….

The preference for English language was common because some people thought and “felt that rapid development could effectively be archived through the English language” (Nkosha, 1995:10). In contrast, Simwiinga (2003) noted that although African countries  have embraced imported languages as tools for economic development and national unity, the languages have not effectively served the purpose because the limited number of nationals who are able to use them. On the other hand, when commenting on local languages, they stated that it would be too costly to produce materials in so many local language and that while learners may be conversant with local languages, teachers may not be and therefore, would not be comfortable to teach in local languages, (Ministry of Education, 1977). The policy of using English language as medium of instruction in Zambian schools was pronounce in 1966 and it was to be used as official language in government workplaces and Education from grade one to tertially levels and Zambian languages were to be taken as Subjects where local languages were allowed to be used. This was a common trend among post-colonial states as noted by Simwiinga (2003:7) who noted that:

It is safe to state that overall, the state of European languages in the post-colonial period in Zambia was favoured by the need to foster economic development and national unity on the premise that too many languages would create chaos.  

This decision on language choice was common among post-colonial states as noted by Kaplan and Baldauf (1997:94) who in support of the above statement had this say:

African governments predominantly use the imported languages of their former colonial powers and these are the languages that therefore prevail in national administration, in secondary and higher education, in modern literature….

This adoption of English in Zambia was a similar trend in most African countries. Few years later after the declaration of English as medium of instruction, there was massive drop out in literacy levels countrywide and more courses were introduced in Zambia’s education system such as Zambia Primary Course (ZPC) of 1967, Zambia Teacher Education Course  (ZATEC), Zambia Basic Education Course (ZBEC) and others. These courses were launched to help improve literacy levels in the country.

Recently, in many parts of the world, the issue of initial reading literacy for children has always attracted much attention from governments, civil society organizations, the public and private sector. This issue is well stated by Trudell (2013:1), who stated that:

Literacy in the early primary grades is receiving a great deal of attention among national and international education organizations in Africa. Assessment initiatives, such as those done by UWEZO in East Africa and those using the early grade reading assessment (EGRA) tool across the continent are raising serious questions about the effectiveness of literacy provision in the formal education system.


Furthermore, children’s scores in reading are proving to be lower than had been expected; the UWEZO Kenya report in 2011 noted that only 28 percent of the children in standard three can read a standard two level story (Mugo etal 2010:2). The UWEZO Tanzania 2010 report noted that 20 percent of primary school leavers in Tanzania cannot read grade two level Swahili (UWEZO Tanzania, 2010:2).

These statistics as reported by scholars and organisations from the neighbouring countries are not very different from the Zambia’s situation in the period from 1980s to 2015. The concerns about low literacy levels among primary school children were very high. Poor reading culture was noted in most Zambian including among secondary and tertiary students (Luangala, 2004).

The low reading and writing levels were noted by many researchers both Zambians and international ones including some government committees. For instance, a research study done by Eddy Williams who compared reading levels of lower grade children in Malawi and Zambia noted that literacy levels were very low among Zambian children as compared to the Malawian counterparts. He associated this low in literacy levels to the Language of instruction used to teach initial literacy. He reported that the Malawian children did better in reading because they learnt in a language familiar to them in class (Williams, 1993). Other studies by the Southern Africa Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality  [(SACMEQ), 1995], National Reading Committee (1997) and even later, National Assessment (2003) all showed very low reading levels among primary school children in Zambia. How low were these reading levels one would wonder? The studies cited about did indicate to what degree the reading levels were low and others expressed them in percentage form.

A research by Luangala (2011) reported that children were reading at three grade levels below their own level. In other words, a grade five pupil in class would prefer to read a grade 2 book and a grade six pupil would prefer to read a grade three text book. Furthermore, the Southern Africa Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality  reported that only 3% of children in Grade six were reading at desirable level, meaning reading at their grade level. The national reading committee (NRC) stated that about 70% of grade 7s were leaving school unable to read and write.

The lower rates in reading and writing levels amongst primary school going children in most cases is triggered by many factors such as lack of appropriate learning and teaching materials, improper teaching strategies and the diverse nature of these classrooms. The issues that inappropriate language of instruction and fault teaching strategies could be one of the major causes of poor literacy skills in Zambia.

Following the results from a series of studies, the Zambian government established two major literacy programmes to help improve literacy levels. While ZPC, ZIBEC and ZATEC courses used English as medium of instruction when teaching literacy skills, in the year 2000, a programme tagged Primary Reading Programme (PRP) was established which contained four courses as illustrated in figure 1 below.

Figure 1: PRP Courses

The Primary Reading Programme (PRP) courses key to abbreviations are as follows: NBTL stand for New Breakthrough to Literacy, SITE is Step into English, PWTE is Pathway to English and ROC is Read On Course. These courses were created to help improve literacy levels. Five to ten years after the programme started, there were a few challenges faced with programme and by 2013, a new programme was launched by the government tagged the Primary Literacy Programme (PLP) which was equally aimed at improving literacy levels in the country.

In the last two programmes, there was a shift in language of literacy instruction. In PRP, a familiar regional language was used in grade one only to teach reading and writing skills while in PLP, the policy was  stated in the National Literacy Framework (2013:13-14) for Zambia which stated that:

to support early literacy and later, English literacy instruction, Ministry of Education, Science, Vocational Training and Early Education (MESVTEE) will introduce instruction in a familiar language so as to build learners’ arsenal for learning to read in other languages as well as learning content subjects.

Furthermore, the following table depicts the proposed language of instruction strategy in Zambia:


Grade Content Subjects and Literacy Language of instruction
1 All learning areas Local languages
2 All learning areas Local Languages
  Content subjects and Literacy in ZL Local Languages
  English Language and Oral Literacy English Language
3 Content subjects and Literacy in ZL Local Language
  English Language and Literacy English Language
4 Content subjects and Literacy in ZL Local Language
  English Language and Literacy English language
5 – 7 Content subjects English Language
  English English Language
  Zambian Languages Local Languages

This table suggest that there is a major shift in terms of language in education policy as the medium in this policy is that from Grade 1 to 4, children will be learning a local language.


The policy does not state which local languages but it is implied by the number of languages they have produced teaching and learning materials in. They have only selected the seven regional languages (Bemba, Kaonde, Lunda, Lozi, Luvale, Nyanja and Tonga). These are not the only local languages, familiar languages and mother tongues per se. Anyway, this is not the focus of this paper and the discussion is reserved for another paper.


Nielsen and Barbara (2013) observe that many times learners from multilingual classes face several challenges in grasping the content. The teachers find it hard to establish wide‐range on‐going student engagement activities and often fail to help students progress beyond simple pragmatic language use due to barriers in language of instruction and the choice of appropriate literacy teaching methods as the case of Zambia.

Statement of the Problem

It was not clear whether pupils would perform better if they were taught in a mother tongue which was familiar to them as compared to English as a second language which was not familiar as medium of instruction in class. In other words, the study wanted to establish if the use of Zambian Language such as Nyanja as language of instruction in grade 1 would enable pupils perform better than they would do if a second language such as English was used and vice versa.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of the study was to establish if the use of Zambian Language such as Nyanja as language of instruction in grade 1 would enable pupils perform better than they would do if a second language such as English was used and vice versa.

Research Objectives

This study aimed at addressing the following objectives:

  • to determine the nature of the classes in the two schools
  • to establish if the language of instruction at the two schools facilitated learning.
  • to ascertain the level of class participation on the part of pupils in class in the two schools.
  • to examine the attitude of pupils, parents and teachers towards the use of the chosen medium of instruction in the two schools.

Research questions

The study sought to respond to the following questions:

  • What was the nature of the classes in the two schools?
  • To what extent did the medium of instruction at the two schools facilitated learning?
  • What was the level of class participation on the part of pupils in class in the two schools?
  • What was the attitude of pupils, parents and teachers towards the use of the chosen medium of instruction in schools?

Research Methodology

Research Design

Sim and Wright (2000) define a research design as an overall plan and structure of a piece of research. This study will use qualitative research design. Denzin and Lincoln (2000:3) indicated that “qualitative research involves an interpretive and naturalistic approach: This means that qualitative researchers study things in their natural settings, attempting to make sense of, or to interpret, phenomena in terms of the meanings people bring to them”. They further indicate that it involves mainly interactive techniques such as interviews, observation and discussions, hence, the choice for this research design.


Best and Kahn (2006:13) define population as “any group of individuals that has one or more characteristics in common and that are of interest to the researcher”. These researchers suggest that a target population is a specific group of entities necessary for a particular project. In this study, the target population was all the pupils and teachers at the two target schools in Zambia.

 Sample Size

Cohen, Manion and Morrison (2007:100) noted that “a sample size of 30 is held by many to be a minimum number of cases if researchers plan to use some form of statistical analysis on their data .…”  In this study, data was collected from 67 respondents from two primary schools where at one school they used Nyanja as medium of instruction while at another school they used English language. The justification for having such a sample size is that firstly, it is scientifically supported by many scholars to be enough for statistical analysis. Secondly, by sample was representative enough for the population at the two schools and finally, in qualitative studies, numbers do not matter but quality and depth of the information collected.

Data Collection Techniques Used

Field data was collected in a space of two weeks using the following techniques:


This study employed the observation technique to see which languages were used in class, how pupils were participating in the lessons and how they were responding to the tasks given. Coolican (2009:123) indicate that “observational method involves watching and being with the people. Disclosed observation is where people know exactly what the observer is doing”.


Coolican (2009:150) indicated that “the interview method involves asking people direct questions”. This study conducted face to face interviews with the sampled group of the population where the researcher asked specific questions to the subjects about the study.

Focus Group Discussions

This study conducted four focus group discussions two for pupils, one for parents and one for teachers. Wimmer and Dominic (1987:151) say

Focus groups or group interviewing is a research strategy for understanding audience/consumer attitudes and behavior. From 6 to 12 people are interviewed simultaneously with the moderator leading the respondents in a relatively free discussion about the focal topic.

Documents Review

Tesch (1990) observes that document review is a good method of collecting secondary data when answering research questions. It provides a useful check on information that is in existence already relating to your study. For this study, many documents were reviewed to strengthen the study and for triangulation purposes.


These techniques listed above entails that triangulation data collection strategy was employed which according to Yin (1994) is used to validate the collected data. This view is also supported by Patton (1990) who indicates that using the triangulation method of data collection entails that multiple sources of information are sought and used because there is no single source of information that can be trusted to provide a comprehensive perspective of the information collected on a particular research project.

Data analysis

Ader (2008:333) describes research data analysis as “a process of inspecting, cleaning, transforming, and modelling data with the goal of highlighting useful information, suggesting conclusions, and supporting decision making”. These views are further supported by Lewis and Michael (1995) who says data analysis is done in a variety of ways depending on the instruments used to collect data and how the researcher want the information to be presented.in this study, data was analysed using thematic analysis where similar themes were discussed under similar headings with respect to the questions.

Findings and Discussion of the study

The findings and discussion of the study have been presented with respect to research objectives and questions. Some themes that emanated from data analysis have also been utilized. It is also important to note that the research objectives and questions have been framed as themes for purposes of data presentation in this section.


Participants of the study

Twelve teachers were involved in the study, three school managers two head teachers and one deputy head teacher. Forty-two pupils were involved in the study and ten selected parents to the children in the two target schools. Table 1 below summarizes the nature of the study participants.

Table 1: Nature of Participants

  Research participant Total Number
1 School managers or Head teachers/Deputy 3
2 Parents to the children in two schools 10
3 Teachers involved 12
4 Pupils that took part 42
  Total Research participants 67

It is important to note that the number of pupils is more than the stated above as most pupils were observed outside the two schools playing in their natural languages. For purposes of this study, a few notable ones discussing outside were remotely counted to establish this number plus a few involved in the two focus group discussions. In terms of gender, figure 1 below reflect the nature of participants.

Figure 1: Gender of Participants

Nature of the classes in the two target schools

The classes in the two target schools contained a number students with different language backgrounds. For instance, at a private school, there were 28 pupils in class. Out of these, eighteen (18) spoke five different Zambian languages as their first languages or mother tongue and they mostly used Nyanja and a little bit of English and Bemba language when playing outside the school set up and ten (10) spoke English as their first languages. On the other hand, in a government school, there were seventy-nine (79) pupils in class. There were eight languages spoken in class and most of the children spoke Nyanja in class and when playing outside the school. One of the respondent during the interview had this to say “in this class children speak different languages and some of them I do not even understand them but Nyanja is the main one”. This multilingual nature of these classes agrees with Mkandawire (2015:190) who noted that:

Zambia like many other African countries is a multi-lingual and multi-cultural society in the sense that there are many languages and dialects that are spoken within the borders of the country.   

This view also agrees with Simwiinga (2003) who noted that there are seventy-three language and dialects spoken within Zambia and each of these languages are important as they are used for communication.

Whether language of classroom instruction facilitated learning or not.

There were two situations that arose from the two schools. The first one was that, at a private school, the teacher was very consistent in using English as medium of instruction in class without making any reference to any other language. The second situation was that in a government school, the teacher used three languages when teaching. Nyanja was the official language for literacy instruction at that school but the teacher could also switch to Bemba and English language occasionally to help pupils that spoke other languages as their familiar languages to understand. Some of the respondents had this to say:

Much of the time we use Nyanja as this is the official language and it is the language that is understood by most learners in class. They also use it when playing outside the school set up. However, occasionally, we switch to other languages such as Bemba, English and Tonga which some of us know already to help pupils understand the lesson or what we are teaching.

In other words, the languages used as medium of instruction in the two target schools are English language for a private school and Nyanja language for the government school. Occasionally, teachers could code switch to other languages that pupils spoke in class to help them understand at a public school.

On whether English language or Nyanja was a barrier to learning on the part of pupils, one of the respondents noted that:

I think that Nyanja is a very good medium of instruction as most pupils at this school literary use Nyanja when playing and when answering questions in class. Most pupils follow what is taught in class in Nyanja however, there are a few pupils who speak other languages who have challenges in understanding Nyanja. Furthermore, for some pupils who speak town or common Nyanja which is diluted, they find it difficult to follow some Nyanja words and phrases that is used in class because it is unfamiliar to them.

This means that both English and local languages (Nyanja) in this case can be a barrier to learning as they can be unfamiliar languages to the pupils that do not speak them. In other words, local languages which are unfamiliar to some pupils are a barrier to learning. In this case, they play the same role as English language except that more pupils in that class speak the local language.

Level of class participation by pupils in class at the two schools

In comparing the English class to the Nyanja class from the two schools, there were two interesting observations noted: The first one was based on what happened at a private school where English language was used as medium of instruction while the second one was at a school where Nyanja was medium of instruction.


On one hand, the situation at a private school where English language was used as medium of instruction was that whenever the teacher asked a question in English language, there were three to five pupils who were rightly responding to the questions. They were the same pupils which kept on responding to the questions from the teacher. When the teacher pointed at other pupils, the pupils could either keep quiet or give a contrary response. The majority of the pupils could respond mainly to common and straight forward questions such as ‘have you understood?’. Furthermore, some pupils in class especially at the back where I sat were talking using Nyanja, Bemba and a few in English language to ask their friends to move and others. When the teacher showed them a picture from a book for pupils to state what it was, some pupils gave responses in local languages. Pupils here successfully imitated the teacher using a number of drills.


On the other hand, the situation at a public school where Nyanja language was used as medium of instruction was that whenever the teacher asked a question in Nyanja language, there were several hands of pupils who wanted to respond to the teacher’s questions. Sometimes the pupils could respond to the teachers’ questions in chorusing at the same time just after the question. They could describe the images they saw on a chart displaced to them in class by the teacher in Nyanja while a few others could state them in other local languages. Pupils in this situation could quickly describe the sounds made for example by a snake and other objects like situation one above. They could also imitate the teacher successfully.


There are several implications of these findings regarding medium of instruction in class. The situation learnt from the two classes is a replication of what happens at national level when debates about the constitution, homosexuality and other  social themes erupts.  Very few Zambians actively take part in the debates and discussions that take place in English language.


Attitude of parents and teachers towards the use of the chosen medium of instruction at the two schools

In an interview with a primary school teacher, she indicated that there was no problem in using Nyanja as it is a language which pupils used when playing in class as well as outside the classroom. Furthermore, she had this to say:

When I teach them in Nyanja they heavily take part in the lesson and they answer questions quickly, do their tasks on time. Most of them easily follow what I teach them and this is grade one term two, some pupils have known how to read already.

The argument that Nyanja is a language of play for pupils in Lusaka was also reported by Mwanza (2012) wo noted that Nyanja was a major language of play for most pupils in a cosmopolitan city of Lusaka. Furthermore, another teacher noted that both pupils and teachers enjoy lessons offered in Nyanja because they know and understand what they are doing in class. It helps them to think fast and pick up pieces together.


In an interview with a school manager, she noted that “local languages like Nyanja help most pupils to quickly break through to reading and writing skill as they easily understand what they learn in class”. This view is also supported by Nkosha (1996) as noted in the background that mother tongue based instruction help pupils quickly learn how to read and write.


On a contrary view, a focus group discussion with some parents revealed that some parents did not want their children to learn in any Zambian language as they just wanted their children to be associated with English language. One of the respondent had this to say:

what will my child gain by learning in Nyanja? Everywhere you go they employ people with English this is why I got him from that school to here so that we do not talk about Nyanja again.

This parent was supported by another one who had this to share “we were just transferred from North-western to here and my child only speak Lunda and English, if he is given Nyanja class it will be worse”. This is not all, another respondent in an interview indicated raised the following:

These people want our children to learn in Nyanja up to grade 4, how will the children write the examination in grade twelve in English if they cannot speak it or write it well. This will confuse our children as two years of English before they write grade seven examination is too is short to pass the exam.

These statements from parents suggests that the current language policy for initial literacy education has not been welcomed well by some Zambians. These parents criticised the government for allowing pupils to learn in local languages from grades 1-4 as outlined in the policy 2013 national literacy framework policy.


It is important to realise that the restless debates on whether or not Zambian languages are needed for teaching reading and writing skills in primary schools of Zambia as noted by some parents are merely a parental attitude cancer.  This cancer is still a serious disease that has masked the faces of minority urban communities in towns and cities especially families of the crossroads. The mask does not distinguish what is good and bad for the innocent child but it is there because one is a parent. Being a parent is one thing and deciding what is good for a child is another issue. Combining the two should always work to the advantage of the innocent child and not vice versa. This situation in Zambia is a serious oxymoron when it comes to issues of political will because much literature about multilingual states such as those by Whiteley (1971), Ellis and Tomlinson (1980), Wilkins (1972), Ohannesian and Kashoki (1978) reported that most multilingual states in Africa takes on a European language as medium of instruction from early grades to university due to political reasons and other factors.


The alleged blame on government for introducing a new language policy in Zambia is totally misplaced. The current literacy policy is not new at all. It started as early as 1880s when the missionaries were teaching in local languages in the earliest schools which were established (Manchishi, 2004). For instance, In 1927 to 1928, the Advisory Board of Native Education of Northern Rhodesia made a decision and recommended four local languages to be used as medium of instruction in schools from grade one to four. These were; Sikolo (lozi) in Barotse Land, Chitonga-Chila in North western Rhodesia, Chibemba in north eastern rhodesia west of Luangwa and Chinyanja in north eastern rhodesia east of Luangwa (Ohennessiaan & Kashoki 1978:287). These languages were further increased after independence to seven and later awarded the regional official languages in Zambia.  This development so far is a good sign for Zambia as it is moving towards sustainable future through multilingual education.

Summary of the Findings

The study noted that the nature of the classes in the two schools were generally multilingual and the language used as medium of instruction was English for a private school and Nyanja plus other languages for a public school. It was noted that the attitude of some parents was not good towards local languages and the policy. It was also noted that in classes where local languages such as Nyanja was used, most pupils were very active in class as compared to those in English language class. In other words, the findings of the study on the significance of mother tongue based instruction verse English language revealed that the following in summary:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Teaching a child in unknown language burdens the child with two unknown things: The language itself and the subject matter to be learnt.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • In education, 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.
  • Local languages can contribute to national development as they are a source of communication for the masses, 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 makes 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 Mkandwire is a researcher, teacher and writer. He is currently based at the University of Zambia, School of Education, Department of Language and Social Sciences Education.
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