Research purpose

In multilingual countries such as The Gambia where English has an official status, the teaching of English and other languages as foreign/additional languages and/or the decision to use English or these other languages as languages of instruction are important decisions. In these contexts, English, the teaching of English as a foreign language (ELT) and English language education raise a range of important questions, e.g.:

  • issues pertaining to ELT provision
  • the tension between Englishisation (imposition of Anglo-Saxon culture) and internationalisation (English as an international commodity)
  • the educational and trading opportunities afforded to regions where English is spoken
  • the applicability of the English as a Lingua Franca perspective

English is often perceived as better suited for education than other more widely spoken and/or indigenous languages in such multilingual countries. Language in education policy decisions are therefore critical and can significantly help enhance education provision.  

Gambian languages and education aims to enhance understanding of the ways in which English and the national languages of The Gambia can best be used to support Gambian children’s learning. MEG therefore focusses on:

  • the languages used as mediums of instruction
  • the languages taught as foreign or additional languages
  • the way The Gambia’s rich multilingual environment is integrated in education

Gambian languages and education focusses on the introduction in 2015 of an early parallel biliteracy programme. Gambian children in grade 1 to 3 receive the same number of national language and English literacy lessons. Seven national languages are covered by this programme: Fula, Jola, Mandinka, Manjaku, Serahule, Serer and Wolof. Our premise is that the apparently straightforward proposition according to which a child learns best when taught in a language she understands and speaks very well simultaneously raises a range of complex issues which deserve careful consideration in a multilingual education context such as The Gambia. The project is therefore casting light on the challenges facing the introduction of literacy lessons in the national languages. These include:   

  • the discrepancy between the official status of English, its monopoly over the linguistic landscape (in the technical sociolinguistic sense of the term) and the low levels of proficiency in English in some areas 
  • the limited availability of teaching resources  and experts in the national languages  
  • the limited literacy practices in the national languages (the national languages are not commonly read or written)
  • the lack of print and digital resources in the national languages making it difficult for teachers to create national language literacy-rich teaching environments for their pupils 
  • the issues regarding pre- and in-service teacher training in the national languages  

Gambian languages and education makes timely contributions to literature in the field of multilingual education, particularly research investigating non-mainstream teaching contexts (e.g. Benson and Kosonen 2013). More broadly, it is also relevant to sociolinguistic and education research focussed on sub-Saharan and western Africa, research from which The Gambia is mostly absent. The project also explores important and yet under-explored aspects of linguistic diversity, namely linguistic diversity in urban and rural triglossic post-colonial areas (e.g. Lüpke and Storch 2013, Juffermans 2015).  


  • Benson, Carol & Kimmo Kosonen (Eds.) (2013). Language issues in comparative education: Inclusive teaching and learning in non-dominant languages and cultures. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers. 
  • Juffermans, K., 2015. Local languaging, literacy and multilingualism in a West African society. Multilingual Matters. 
  • Lüpke, Friederike and Storch, Anne 2013. Repertoires and choices in African languages. Boston; Berlin: de Gruyter. 

Project description

Research purpose

Team, ethos and partners