Becoming academically literate in South Africa: Lessons from student accounts for policymakers and educators

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20 Citations (Scopus)


This paper reports on a series of studies undertaken at the University of the Western Cape, South Africa, in the 1990s. The studies explore how students acquire academic literacy in the home and community, school and at university. The main focus is on the literacy biographies of 36 students who come from a variety of educational, linguistic and socio-economic backgrounds. These biographies are discussed in relation to a set of essays produced by the students. The paper demonstrates the range of elements informing the acquisition of academic literacy of the students, including proficiency in the dominant language (English), access to literacy materials, attitude, ways with words and level of participation in literacy events in the various sites. The juxtaposition of the literacy biographies with the analysis of the student texts demonstrates that the students' literacy backgrounds inform their academic writing, and that this is discernible in the texts. The final section demonstrates how research into students' literacy backgrounds can inform the planning and course design of teachers and lecturers, as well as inform policy development at the national level.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35-52
Number of pages18
JournalLanguage and Education
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2004


  • South africa

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Education
  • Linguistics and Language


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