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Teaching and learning in English-medium schools (TEMARI)

Project title: Teaching and learning in English-medium schools: Adapting everyday language resources for instruction using translanguaging theory and principles (TEMARI).


ተማሪ (Temari) is the Amharic word for a girl student and the verb to study. In many countries in sub-Saharan Africa the medium of instruction in schools is a national official language, often the former colonial language. In general, only a small minority of the population speak this language. In Ethiopia, children are taught in the regional language in lower primary school, and for many students this is their mother-tongue. Then, in grade 7, maths and sciences are taught in English. This transition to English-medium teaching leads to poor learning outcomes for many students.

While politically and economically expedient, this change in the language of instruction exacerbates structural inequalities in education, including socio-economic and gender inequalities.

Our project will investigate the capacity of translanguaging resources to improve students’ learning outcomes after transitioning to English-medium schools in Ethiopia.

We will work with students and teachers in a proof of concept study to co-design and evaluate a set of pedagogical tools and principles within a translanguaging framework (the process whereby multilingual speakers use their languages as an integrated communication system). This will build on the everyday communicative resources of teachers and students including language, gesture, visual and material culture.


TEMARI is a collaborative project between Professor Karen Wells, Birkbeck, Professor Getnet Tadele, University of Addis Ababa, and Partners in Education, Ethiopia (PiEE). PiEE seconded Girma Muluneh to the project (as Senior Education Officer) to collect ethnographic data on the lives of school students in six schools that PiEE work with.

RESEARCH AIMS                                                                           

This project aims to contribute to SDG 4 and the Global Challenge to provide Equitable Access to Sustainable Development through inclusive and equitable quality education. Specifically, TEMARI/ተማሪ addresses a key problem for education in many postcolonial states: how to manage the transition from vernacular to national-medium instruction in ways that do not exacerbate educational inequalities structured by gender, class and for linguistic/cultural minorities.

TEMARI/ተማሪ hypothesizes that translanguaging pedagogical tools based on translanguaging principles, co-produced with students and teachers and drawing on locally available cultural resources can mitigate these problems. Its principal aims are to investigate the capacity of translanguaging resources to improve students’ learning outcomes in Amhara region schools after transitioning to English-medium of instruction (EMI); and to further develop theories of multilingual and multimodal language learning including translanguaging.

We will meet these aims through achieving the following objectives:                                                      

  1. Understand children’s language use in different spatial (school, home, play, church, mosque, farming, chores) and social (peers, elders, family, friends) contexts.
  2. Explore how axes of differentiation, including gender, shape language use.
  3. Co-design translanguaging teaching tools with teachers and students.
  4. Investigate how translanguaging pedagogy may impact students' learning outcomes.


The transition to English-medium instruction (EMI) intensifies inequalities in education. It contributes to school drop-out and further exacerbates the gap between genders and socio-economic groups in school attainment. It increases the disconnect between students' language practices in and out of school and further limits the ability of parents to engage with their children's learning, which is a widely recognised pillar of school success. Teachers also often lack confidence in their ability to teach in English. Despite this evidence base, very little attention has been paid to language learning and second-language acquisition for students in the Global South (Milligan et al 2016). These factors are all evident in the schools that PiEE work with in the Amhara region, northwest Ethiopia.

In most African countries, lower primary is taught in the vernacular and upper primary and secondary in a national language. Even in Ethiopia, which was never colonised, and in which Amharic has been the language of government for centuries, English has been the language of secondary and tertiary education since 1941. The transition to national languages is justified by its importance for political and economic development. However, the assumption that students will be able to effectively learn from grade 7 in a language that they are not familiar with is unwarranted.

The exclusion of the vernacular from the EMI classroom is based on a theory of languages as contained semiotic systems, where additional language learning aims for full bilingualism and fluent translation between two discrete languages. Sociolinguistic theories developed to explain language practices in superdiverse urban spaces in the Global North have successfully challenged this conceptualisation of languages through a theory of translanguaging. In this view, languages are semiotic resources people draw on, as and when they need them, together with other semiotic resources (image, gesture, objects), rather than discrete linguistic sets. Research has shown the transformative dimension of translanguaging and its creative potential; contributing to a change in attitudes and beliefs and to identity development, awareness of the social meaning of the languages one speaks, and wider social relations. Translanguaging has been recognised as an effective pedagogical practice in bi/multilingual education in the Global North, especially in minority language teaching.

Translanguaging was developed to explain how language users in the Global North manage relatively novel forms of linguistic diversity and the emergence of new language practices like Spanglish. There has been limited research on how speakers manage linguistic diversity in sub-Saharan Africa; a region with over 2,000 languages and in which people often speak two or three languages. Research in South Africa has investigated translanguaging practices in multilingual English-medium classrooms where neither teachers nor students feel competent in English. This research has identified promising strategies for using translanguaging to manage the transition of students into EMI. TEMARI/ተማሪ will build on this work by developing tools for testing a proof of concept of translanguaging in Ethiopian EMI classrooms.


  1. How does children's language use change in relation to social relations and social contexts of home, school and community?
  2. How are different language practices correlated or associated with different gendered, socio-economic status and generational relations?
  3. What pedagogical tools can be developed in low-resource settings to support translanguaging?
  4. Does supported translanguaging improve the experience of teaching and learning and student outcomes?

PLANNED OUTPUTS                                                      

  • A Policy Report with recommendations for teacher training.
  • A set of resources for teaching with translanguaging in multilingual settings.
  • Journal articles on:
    • applying the principles of translanguaging to the co-production of culturally relevant resources for teaching and learning in multilingual classrooms’
    • the impact of translanguaging resources on gendered language practices English-Medium schools in Ethiopia.
  • A book contract for an edited collection on translanguaging in education in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • An international conference on multilingualism in EMI schools for researchers, policy-makers and practitioners.
  • Symposiums with stakeholders in Bahir Dar and Addis Ababa and workshops in the research site villages towards the end of the project.