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The role(s) of Mother Tongue Literacy in Learning a Second Language: The case of Wolof and French in Senegal (Moustapha Fall, University of Victoria, Canada)

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10:00 AM, Thursday 29 Apr 2021 EDT (30 minutes)
  Virtual session
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Moustapha Fall, University of Victoria, Canada

Title: The role(s) of Mother Tongue Literacy in Learning a Second Language: The case of Wolof and French in Senegal

Keywords: Mother tongue; Second language; Partial literacy


Debates over the role of mother tongue literacy in second language learning have generated a wide range of scientific research throughout the world (Bamgbose, 1983; Cummins 1979, 2000; Diallo, 2012; Fakeye & Soyinka, 2009; Hood et al., 2008; M’Bow, 1953; Salazar, 2006; William, 1996). While some researchers (Cummins, 1979; Sparks et al., 2009) have equated successful second language learning with strong mother tongue literacy, others have minimized the role of the mother tongue in successful second language learning (Bloomfield, 1933; Skinner, 1957; Thorndike, 1913; Watson, 1925).

While numerous studies have been conducted on this issue in situations in which the first language and second language of literacy are related (Spanish and English: Cummins, 2000; Gonzalez, 1979; French and English Cziko, 1978), little research is currently available on partial literacy. In other words, how school children who do not read and write in their mother tongue learn a second language successfully?

This fundamental question seems to have slipped under the radar of researchers and scholars in the Western world for centuries. Although questions of this nature may seem irrelevant to many Western communities where children already develop literacy in their mother tongue prior to learning a second language, they have become a major source of concern for a vast majority of post-independence African countries in which a foreign language is the dominant medium of instruction in schools to the detriment of the mother tongue.

In a comparative study of two groups of children in Senegal, who are partially literate in their mother tongue, we investigated the extent to which partial literacy in Wolof could affect the development of the L2 French decoding and reading comprehension. Our findings have illuminated the role of mother tongue literacy in learning a second language and supported the Jim Cummins’s Language Interdependence Hypothesis (Cummins, 1979, 1984).

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