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In Defence of Malawian Languages

Following Malawi's government decision to introduce English as a medium of instruction from grade one, Steve Sharra defends local languages and makes the case for multilingualism:

Teachers and lecturers in our secondary schools and universities are observing a trend in which students from private schools speak perfect English, but their reasoning, writing and problem-solving skills are not well developed. This is even as the Independent Schools Association of Malawi (ISAMA) is reporting reporting that 80 percent of students selected to Malawian universities are coming from private schools.

Language researchers have also found that children who speak more than one language exhibit better academic performance than children who know only one language, regardless of what that language is. This is why our language of instruction policy needs to promote multilingualism, and not monolingualism. Just a generation ago most Malawians were multi-lingual, speaking two or more languages on average. Today’s generation knows two languages, English and Chichewa, on average. If we do not enact policies to develop our local languages, the coming generations of Malawians will be reduced to only one language, English.

Monolingualism encourages insularity, a restricted worldview in which the only knowledge available to one is from one linguistic source. The danger with the new policy, as it stands, is the damage it can potentially cause to Malawian languages. The new policy will mean that as a country we will allocate more resources to English at the expense of nurturing and developing local languages.

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