Start main page content

Languages and literacies in the 21st Century

- Deborah Minors

Professor Leketi Makalela chairs a research programme on complex multilingual encounters, a growing field attracting increasing numbers of PhD candidates.

Makalela is the Head of the Division of Languages, Literacies and Literatures in the Wits School of Education. His research explores the interface between languages and literacies in the 21st Century. He is intrigued by the prospect of alternating languages of input and output to enhance identity construction and epistemic access for multilingual students.

His research challenges the validity of boundaries between languages and literacies and it ‘disrupts’ monolingual bias in classroom interactions and language policies. His research highlights the fact that monolingual bias is the root cause of high failure rates among multilingual learners and that it reproduces social inequalities.

In light of these theoretical limitations, he has developed a multilingual literacies framework that is based on the African value system of interdependence – ubuntu – to define complex multilingual encounters.

Using ubuntu ‘translanguaging’ to explain cultural competence that is embedded in the logic of incompletion (i.e., one language is incomplete without the other) and interdependence, Makalela argues that all global multilingual encounters are characterised by the constant disruption of language and literacy boundaries and the simultaneous recreation of new discursive ones.

This research shifts epistemological lenses from the North to the South and proposes practical methodologies that are anchored in the cultural competence of multilingual speakers for increased access to knowledge, ways of knowing, and identity formation/affirmation.

“I believe this is the most effective way to bring about transformed school practices in South Africa and other comparable contexts worldwide,” he says.


CALL FOR PAPERS: The Hub for Multilingual Education and Literacies in the Wits School of Education invites papers for the 4th International Conference on Language and Literacy Education. Email your 250-word abstract to by 31 March 2017.


Read more about research at Wits in Wits Research Matters