“Language is not education….language is just talking”

Tracey Costley

June marked an exciting phase of our project as it saw our first collaborative data analysis session! Our project is guided by three core principles which are: 1) researching multilingually 2) researching collaboratively and 3) researching responsively and our first collaborative data analysis session was a great way to show these principles in action.

A virtual meeting through Zoom meant we were able to be together from Lusaka, Dar es Salaam, Edinburgh and London to work through five research interviews conducted by different members of our Zambian research team. All of the interviews were carried out in languages decided by the participants. They were then transcribed multilingually and shared among the members of the team. In advance of our meeting we were all asked to identify what we felt were the most interesting sections, what parts we felt were most relevant to our research questions as well as to comment on themes and patterns and be ready to discuss these at the meeting.  

As an international team with interests, experiences and expertise in and across linguistics and education, reviewing out data together highlighted not only our shared interests but also the many different perspectives we view the data from. For example, some of us come to the data with experiences of living, learning and teaching in Zambia, some of us as speakers of Icibemba, Icinamwanga and Kiswahili, all of us as speakers of English. Being shaped by our backgrounds, we all read and listened to the data differently – as researchers interested in teaching and learning in multilingual classrooms, as researchers interested in the phonology of Bantu languages, as linguists, as policy analysts, and as friends and colleagues excited by the opportunity to discuss our first set of data! These positions and perspectives added a depth to our discussions and interpretations that would not be possible working alone.

Working together, we were all able to share our ideas and to ask questions. Joseph and Nancy were able to comment on local history, meanings and practices to provide clarification when needed. Even from this small set of data we all significantly furthered our understanding of attitudes towards and experiences of language use Zambia. Our collaborative session also meant that we were able to talk about what similarities and differences there may be in the data we will collect and analyse from Tanzania and what some of the reasons for differences might be.

Excitingly, this first session has already helped us to identify some fascinating themes and patterns that are emerging about the ways in which our participants view language and their own language use. We were all equally struck by a powerful comment from one of our participants who, when asked about what languages should be used in school said: “Language is not education…language is just talking”. Already we see important similarities and differences in the way that our participants view their own languages, and how these views shape their ideas about what should be happening in schools.

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