Language Teacher Research in Africa

| November 28, 2012

Thomas S. C. Farrell and Leketi Makalela (Eds). Virginia: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Inc., 2009. Pp. viii + 124.

Reviewed by Iris F. Levitis
Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research
Rostock, Germany

Of interest to English teachers, preservice teachers, and TESOL students and professionals, Language Teacher Research in Africa brings together eight articles written by English language teachers in Africa which can be grouped into three pedagogical foci: oral language (chapters 3, 4), writing skills (chapters 6, 7), and academic writing (chapters 2, 5, and 8).

The first pedagogical area, oral language skills, is explored by Kadenge, Mabugu, and  Dube (chapter 3), wherein they pose the question: What pronunciation difficulties do Shona speaking undergraduates have when learning English? To address this question, the researchers established an inventory of pronunciation errors. Corrective feedback provided to students was based on this inventory. The researchers concluded that giving students corrective feedback tailored to the errors that they committed resulted in more native-like pronunciation. Kasanga (chapter 4) investigates the value of incorporating debate into an English for Academic Purposes (EAP) course. Using ethnographic data collection and reflection, Kasanga studied the impact of debate as an academic exercise. This exploratory study draws on teacher and undergraduates assessment and determined that carefully planned debate can be a useful method of practicing English.

Another pedagogical area explored is basic writing skills. Njoroge Ndung’u’s article (chapter 6) explores the importance of vocabulary instruction in a secondary school. Students completed cloze exercises and wrote sentences using twenty synonymous nouns to determine their knowledge of the word’s lexical information. Results indicated that vocabulary instruction, to be successful, requires more emphasis on lexical role and grammatical knowledge than it currently receives. Ojwang’ (chapter 7) addresses the issue of fossilized spelling errors in undergraduate student writing. Ojwang’ analyzes undergraduate essays and dictations to classify types of spelling errors and explores different learning methods adopted by students. Additionally, students completed surveys about their experiences with spelling instruction. The article concluded that current spelling instruction is inadequate and leads to later writing problems.

The issue of academic writing is tackled by three of the articles in this volume. Banda (chapter 2) provides an ethnographic exploration of ten black African university students; their personal history of English education, and their subsequent literacy practices. Student writing samples as well as individual and group interviews were gathered and analyzed. Banda concluded that one legacy of apartheid is the inadequate academic writing skills of the current generation of rural black South Africans. Makalela (chapter 5) asks what impact form-focused feedback has on the writing of first-year university students. To determine what aspects of writing were problematic, Makalela analyzed student essays and quantified grammatical errors and categorized the errors which made it possible to focus on providing students with relevant feedback. Makalela concluded that this dynamic approach to feedback resulted in better student writing. Elizabeth Steinbach (chapter 8) examines the relationship of pre-service English teachers to writing. Steinbach uses a combination of ethnographic and experimental methods in order to survey the writing skills and the beliefs of participants enrolled in a process-writing course. Steinbach concluded that the technique of process writing did not match this particular context and concludes that writing must be taught in context to be effective.

The strengths of this book are the accessibility of the research and the range of methodologies employed (e.g ethnography, quantitative methods, and interventionist). The one flaw, however, is that is suffers from a lack of geographical breadth. The claimed geography covered is the African continent, but this is misleading since all but three articles (one from Zimbabwe, and two from Kenya) are from South Africa. The overrepresentation of South Africa causes the educational problems to appear to have more significance in this volume than if additional countries had been included. The issues faced by English teacher researchers in other African countries remain unexplored. Despite this flaw, this book is valuable both for its insight into problems faced by African teacher researchers as well as for the methods used to solve these problems.

Category: Book Reviews