Influence of Indigenous Language on the Mastery of Scientific Concepts and Vocabulary: A Review and Analysis of the Literature

  • S. Greenhalgh University of Zimbabwe
  • O. Shumba University of Zimbabwe


In different cultural contexts, it has been demonstrated that student proficiency in language may be related to academic achievement and to mastery of concepts and technical vocabulary in school subjects such as science. Where a second language (L2) is the official medium of instruction, the achievement and mastery may be affected by linguistic difficulties arising in the medium of instruction by conceptual difficulty of the subject taught, and additionally, by the interference of the meanings and experiences derived from the mother language (L1). Further, misconceptions can arise where the learner is striving to master simultaneously the medium of instruction and the scientific concepts and vocabulary presented. For example, science content in textbooks and in classrooms in Zimbabwe is usually presented in English, yet the majority of pupils are non-native speakers of English, and thus interference of the mother tongue is predicted, especially for younger students. This article is a review and analysis of the research and theoretical literature on the relationship between language, bilingual communication and education, conceptual understanding and misconceptions in science. Hypotheses are suggested for field testing with Shona, Ndebele and English (L1) students in Zimbabwe.

Author Biography

O. Shumba, University of Zimbabwe

Lecturer, Department of Curriculum and Arts Education


Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1013-3445