Language of Instruction

by Elaine
(South Africa)

Our home language is Afrikaans but we have decided to make the transition to English next year when our eldest does grade 4. I am a firm believer in “learning in your home language”, but there is a great possibility that we could be moving to our family in Canada within the next 2/3 years.

Our 2nd daughter will be in grade 1 next year and will learn to read and write in English from the start. I am not sure how to make a smooth transition for our eldest.

I will start teaching our 2nd daughter her letters in English from this term. Please let me know if you have any ideas that could help us with this transition.

Answer to Language of Instruction

Below is an article about language of instruction by Leendert van Oostrum of the Pestalozzi Trust in South Africa.

Leendert is a veteran homeschooling dad, with a masters degree in education and he is a South African homeschooling consultant and legal advisor.

A. Advantages of educating young children in a second language:

1. If the second language is a widely-used language, (e.g. English,
Spanish, Mandarin) children learn some terminology in that language at an
early age. This may help them in the initial phases to understand learning
material in that language more easily, giving them access to more written

B. Apparent advantages of educating children in a second language:

1. It seems to help the children to learn the second language better.
This is only an apparent advantage, because children who have learnt through
their first language until at least age fifteen actually master the second
language better, and function in it at a higher level than children who
learnt through the medium of the second language from early on.

2. Children learn to speak the second language accentlessly. This is
only an apparent advantage, because it only applies if the teachers also
speak the language accentlessly. If no, they learn the teachers' accent. If,
on the contrary, they are educated in their first language, and are exposed
to a high standard in the second language outside the learning situation
(e.g. having friends who speak that language, watching films or listening to
audiobooks in the second language), they DO master the second language

C. Disadvantages of educating children in the second language:

1. Humans use language to think, and we can think in different language
to some extent (I am thinking in English as I write this). However, at a
very fundamental level, humans use the language structures as well as pre-
and sublingual that were formed in the first six, and especially the first
three years of life. All our thoughts, in whatever language, rely on these
for fluency and accuracy, and therefore we rely on these for the rest of our

Language development is dependent on the biological development of the brain
at those early ages, and once a particular developmental stage is past, it
cannot be repeated or replaced. If the appropriate development did NOT take
place at the appropriate age, the deficiency can never be fully repaired,
irrespective of the amount of remediation or therapy we provide. These
fundamental structures can never be rebuilt of replaced by the structures of
another language, because they are associated with the biological development of the brain at those early ages.

Because these structures were laid down in our first language, we rely on
our first language for the rest of our lives, including for learning other
languages and for thinking in them, although we may not be conscious of

One result of this is that second, third, and other languages can never
develop further than the first language. If, therefore, development of the
first language is restricted (e.g. by NOT doing schoolwork in that language)
this places a ceiling on the development of our other languages.

2. There is a high probability that children who have learnt their
schoolwork through the medium of a second language will develop irreversible
cognitive developmental backlogs, especially in their abstract an symbolic
thinking - i.e. in the areas of math, science, formal logic.

This sometimes manifests with children of school-going age - Some children
seems to be more susceptible to language disorders that arise from confusion
between different language. They seem to be able to sort this out for
themselves if they are allowed to use the language of their choice until
they are ready for the others. However, if they are forced to deal with (esp
speak and write) other languages they end up with language disorders
(dyslexia, etc.) in ALL languages. Fortunately, this does not seem to happen
too often, but one does get it among children of diplomats, etc. And I have
quite often encountered cases of this in children who were placed in a
second language school at a young age.

However, most of the time these cognitive backlogs only manifest when
children get to university level, when they can no longer rely on
memorization and regurgitation. That is when it is discovered that these
children cannot do university level math, science, formal grammar, formal
logic, etc. Sue Starfield concluded that the most important reason why
African students at Wits generally have problems in these fields is because
they started learning through the medium of English at too early and age
(younger than fifteen).

3. Children who learn through the medium of a second language run the
risk that the development of the first language becomes stunted. As
explained above, this places a limit on the development of the second
language, because the second language (and further languages) cannot develop
further than the first language. And, consequently, it places a limit on the
level at which the child can think, eventually, because we use our language
to think.

4. Children who learn through the medium of a second language before
age fifteen master that second language less effectively and at a lower
level of functioning than children who only commence learning through the
medium of the second language after age fifteen.

C. Does this mean children should not learn other languages?

On the contrary! The ages between birth and ten years is by far the best
ages to learn languages, and we should learn as many of them as we can
during that time. BUT we should not use them as the medium for our studies,
especially not math and science. We CAN use reference materials in other
languages, but they should not be the language of instruction.

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Jul 25, 2011
Language of instruction
by: Elize

We are also Afrikaans at home, but currently our boys attend a playschool that was 50/50 Afrikaans/English, but is now 10/90 Afrikaans/English and soon will be only English.

Both our boys (almost 5yrs and 2.5yrs) speak Afrikaans and English, but I plan to homeschool in Afrikaans. That doesn't mean that I stop reading to them in English or other people stop talking to them in English, I just keep the phonics and learning to read to Afrikaans.

I have already seen that the oldest is becoming confused because of learning letter sounds in both Afrikaans and English, which means I will have to start from scratch.

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