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Getting it right from the start: Some cautionary notes for early reading instruction in African languages

Mon, April 15, 3:15 to 4:45pm, Hyatt Regency, Floor: Atrium (Level 2), Waterfront A


To date, little research has been done on reading in African languages. Because of its historical ties with Europe, and because English, French and Portuguese are the main colonial languages, Africa has tended to look to reading research from the North and West. These views of reading are often adopted unwittingly in developing countries, producing what may be inappropriate reading applications in unsuitable contexts. For example, instructional methods for teaching early reading in English may be adopted for early reading in African languages, without consideration of how the reading principles underlying the English-based reading methods could best be adapted to the African language in question.
Launching children on successful reading trajectories from the start of schooling is a priority. A faltering initial reading trajectory creates cracks in literacy development which 'in time become gaps, and finally ... chasms in learning' (Johnson, 2012). Inappropriate applications of reading instruction across diverse linguistic contexts may pose risks to early reading development. In this presentation, I argue that the use of appropriate reading methods can help to launch readers on successful reading trajectories from the start of their schooling, provided that we have a principled basis for determining what is appropriate in the reading context. I propose that the unique linguistic and orthographic nature of the languages in which reading occurs should provide the basis for guidelines for early instruction, specifically when the focus is on developing early decoding skills (that is, the development of fluent code-based skills on which meaningful comprehension relies).