Original Research

Student perceptions of multilingualism and the culture of communication in journalism studies in higher education

Sisanda B. Nkoala
Reading & Writing | Vol 11, No 1 | a258 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/rw.v11i1.258 | © 2020 Sisanda B. Nkoala | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 31 July 2019 | Published: 28 May 2020

About the author(s)

Sisanda B. Nkoala, Media Department: Journalism Programme, Faculty of Informatics and Design, Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Cape Town, South Africa


Background: The year 2020 will mark five years since the watershed #FeesMustFall protests in South Africa. This was a student-led series of protests, at campuses across the country, calling for higher education to be made accessible through free decolonised education for black people. In light of this, the time has come to ascertain how students perceive the developments in the sector following this demand, which, among other things, included a call for tertiary education to reflect the country’s multilingual context.

Objective: This study explored how journalism students, at a university of technology in South Africa, perceive the multilingual teaching and learning strategies, and their influence on the culture of communication in this discipline.

Method: The study employed a mixed methods sequential design, beginning with an online survey, followed by focus group discussions. A semantic thematic analysis was undertaken using a ‘top-down’ approach based on themes identified through James Carey’s theoretical framework of communication as culture.

Results: The findings are that even though students have been exposed to various multilingual teaching and learning strategies, they perceive the way language is used in this discipline as perpetuating a culture of communication that is still predominantly monolingual. They see the multilingual interventions as being inadequate in addressing the challenges created by this particular culture of communication. They expressed mixed views on the influence of multilingualism on their academic performance.

Conclusion: The culture of communication used in this discipline continues to make students feel out of place in lectures and higher education as a whole and perpetuates certain student-lecturer power dynamics. For journalism students in particular, this has further implications in how they perceive their professional prospects as aspiring communications practitioners.


Multilingualism; journalism education; higher education; culture of communication theory; #FeesMustFall.


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