1816-7659 /04/07 1-11 © Arua E. Arua
Marang: Journal of Language and Literature Vol. 17, 2007
USING TWO VARIETIES IN THE ESL CLASSROOM
Arua E. Arua
From data collected through the observation of 15 community junior and senior secondary
schools, and a survey of 43 English language teachers in the observed schools, the paper
describes the conflict in the use of Botswana English and Standard British English in the
English language classrooms. The findings of the study reveal teachers’ uncertainty
regarding the model of English to use in the classroom, students’ fear and confusion
regarding the varieties of English appropriate in various contexts and a hostile learning
environment which makes students reluctant to engage in meaningful interaction in
English. It is necessary for policy makers to begin to think about the nature of the English
being taught in schools. Teachers will need to acquire student management skills to
improve the environment in which English is acquired.
varieties of English, English language teaching
Increasingly, the varieties of English in use in sub-Saharan Africa, as in
many other multilingual regions of the world, are coming under intense scrutiny.
This scrutiny, which had initially been on the syntactic and lexical characteristics of
the varieties, has broadened to include, among other things, examining the
differences and similarities between the second and first language varieties,
establishing the legitimacy of the second language varieties and determining what
they could or could not be used for (see, for example, Tiffen, 1974; Obanya et al.,
1979; Ekong, 1980; Magura, 1984, 1985, 1995; Schmied, 1991; Banjo, 1995;
Buthelezi, 1995; Chisanga, 1995, 1998; Kamwangamalu & Chisanga, 1996; Arua,
1998, 1999, 2004; Merkestein, 1998; Makalela, 1999).
In language education, British English was prescribed as the appropriate
model for teaching English to Africans (Atoye, 1987; Gimson, 1980). Local varieties
of English in Africa were not considered because they were not standardized.
However, as these varieties have intruded considerably into primary and high
schools, some researchers have been examining their appropriateness as models for
teaching English to second language speakers (for example, Tiffen, 1974; Obanya et
al., 1979; Ekong, 1980; Arua, 1999).
This is a revised version of the paper presented at the 39
Annual TESOL Convention held at the
Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, San Antonia, Texas, USA, from 30 March – 2 April, 2005.
Department of English, University of Botswana, P/Bag 00703, Gaborone, Botswana.
2 Marang, Vol. 17, 2007
This study of varieties of English in the Botswana high school classroom is
motivated by two factors. The first is that Botswana’s Revised National Policy on
Education (1994) does not prescribe any model as the variety for use in the
classroom. Arua and Magocha (2000:287) note that this could be the result of the
difficulties inherent in doing so. The lack of clarity on how to proceed in the
classroom is not only confusing but also implies that teachers could choose or use
any model of English they preferred. The second is the apparent conflict, noted in
Makelela (1999:69), in the use of the English in prescribed written materials and
the English with which classes are presented. In this connection, the teachers are
also in a potentially confusing situation regarding the variety of English they should
In view of these two problems, this study discusses
a) Teachers’ characterization of the varieties of English they and their
b) The acceptability of Botswana English in the classroom,
c) Students’ awareness of the varieties available to them for use in the
d) The pedagogical strategies that teachers of English employ to overcome
the (negative) effects of the use of more than one variety in class.
Some background information should be noted at this point. First, English,
as the Revised National Policy on Education (1994) specifies, is the official
language and the medium of instruction in schools in Botswana. Its importance is
seen in the fact that it is used for the teaching of mathematics and science right
from Grade 1 in the primary school. It is subsequently used in the teaching of all
other school subjects from Grade 2 through Grade 12. In addition, it is the language
of instruction in tertiary institutions.
Second, before Botswana became independent, English teaching was mainly
the preserve of native speakers of the language. After independence, and over the
last 40 years, the nature of English language teaching has changed. English
teaching has become completely localized in government-aided primary schools
and more than 95% localized in government-aided high schools. Private schools,
however, still have many expatriate English language teachers. Thus, for the
purpose of making generalizations that are related to the use of English in
Botswana high school classrooms, only government-aided schools are used in the
Varieties of English in Botswana
The two varieties of English that are under scrutiny in this study are
Botswana English (BE) and Standard British English (StBrE)
. That a variety of
2StBrE was retained at the end of British rule in Botswana for official and other purposes. In its written form, the variety is
well preserved in country, although some people are beginning to adopt American English written forms. In its spoken form,
StBrE has lost its shape, due to the influence of American and Indian English, among others.
Arua E. Arua 3
English referred to as BE exists is now agreed. The agreement is seen, for example,
in Bagwasi’s (2006) description of the model as a developing variety. She had
earlier (2002), as did Merkestein (1998), provided a detailed diachronic description
of the variety. Similarly, Arua (2004) and Arua and Magocha (2000) provide a
synchronic account of the same variety.
Here is a sample of sentences in the BE variety and a brief discussion of
their syntactic features:
a) If the other one is absent, then use the other one.
b) He said some things which he did not know their meanings.
c) The woman can be able to bring development.
d) He came to see the house yesterday, isn’t it?
e) Sharp! See you later.
f) He didn’t even know what is it all about.
In a), the phrase the other one is used twice. Its first occurrence means ‘the first
one’ in StBrE. In b), which is used as a coordinator rather than a subordinator. A
second explanation is that the preposition ‘of’ which should precede which has been
omitted. In c) can and be able are conjoined. They have the same meaning in StBrE
and so would not be used in this way. The tag isn’t it? in d) replaces ‘didn’t he?’
which is the StBrE tag. The tag appears to suppress other tags normally found in
StBrE. Sharp! in e) stands for ‘excellent’, ‘fine’ or ‘good’ in StBrE. Finally, f) should
read ‘He didn’t even know what it was all about’. Here, the subject and the auxiliary
verb which should normally exchange places do not do so. Nor does the verb ‘is’
become the past tense ‘was’. The BE variety, discussed fully in Arua (2004), is
widespread in Botswana. It is not surprising that it should also be used in the
The second variety, StBrE, is the language of the textbooks. The
characteristics of the variety have partly been given in the contrastive analysis
above. Many of the textbooks in use in the high schools are written either by British
nationals or by others using StBrE. The major departure from textbooks used in
Britain is the introduction into the Botswana textbooks of local colour, especially in
terms of personal and place names and labels and in terms of the description of
local food items and fauna. StBrE is the dialect used in the textbooks because it
served as the model for teaching written English during British colonization of
Botswana. With the adoption of English as the official language in Botswana after
the departure of the British, the variety was retained as it was the most convenient
to use. We shall see, presently, how students and teachers deal with the two
varieties discussed in this section in their classrooms.
Data for the study were elicited through observation and survey. The
researcher observed English language classes over a seven-year period as part of
the University of Botswana’s Faculty of Education teaching practice supervision
4 Marang, Vol. 17, 2007
programme for postgraduate diploma in Education students. His observation of the
use of English in the classes enabled him to generate a questionnaire as the survey
instrument which was then administered to English language teachers employed in
the schools observed.
The questionnaire was a simple instrument designed to corroborate or
contradict the researcher’s observations of the use of varieties of English in the
classes. Though administered only to teachers, it sought to elicit from them their
views about the varieties of English that they and their students use and the
strategies they adopt in teaching English in their classes. Data were not solicited
from students. Nevertheless, the teachers’ perceptions of their students’ use of
English should suffice for the purposes of this paper.
The respondents consist of Batswana teachers – 29 from 12 Community
Junior Secondary Schools (CJSSs) and 14 from 3 Senior Secondary Schools (SSSs)
(see the Appendix for a list). Only half of the students graduating from the CJSSs
proceed to the SSSs. So there are considerably fewer SSSs than CJSSs.
The sampling procedure is closely tied to the supervision schedule provided
by the Faculty of Education, University of Botswana, the organizers of the Teaching
Practice Supervision. The Faculty assigns teaching practice supervisors to schools
in different parts of Botswana to which student-teachers have been posted. The
schools to be visited are usually spread through urban, semi-urban and rural areas.
The data collected for this study are therefore representative of all the schools in
Botswana, as they are evenly spread from the southern through the northern parts
The minimum qualification for teaching in the high school is a three-year
diploma acquired from one of Botswana’s secondary colleges of education or an
equivalent qualification. The qualifications of the teachers used in the study are
presented in Table 1.
Table 1: Teachers’ Qualifications
Qualifications Diploma Bachelors Masters
CJSS(N=29) 15 (51.7%) 13 (44.8%) 1 (3.4%)
SSS(N=14) - 13 (92.9%) 1 (7.1%)
It is obvious that only university graduates teach in the SSSs. Diploma and degree
graduates can and do teach in the CJSSs, as the data in Table 1 show.
The teaching experiences at both levels are similar as the majority of
teachers fall into the 1-10 year teaching experience bracket, 72.45% for CJSS
teachers and 56.1% for the SSS teachers. Table 2 contains the data on teaching
Table 2: Teaching Experience
Schools 1-5 6-10 11-15 16-20 20+ Not stated
CJSS(N=29) 13(44.8%) 8(27.6%) 1(3.4%) - 3(10.3%)
SSS (N=14) 5(35.7%) 3(21.4%) 1(7.1%) 2(14.3%)
Arua E. Arua 5
The foregoing indicates that Botswana teachers, including those with diploma
qualifications, are well qualified, and as such would be able to provide the data
needed for the study. Sex (or gender) was not considered a necessary variable for
the study, which is intended to elicit general responses from both genders.
Nevertheless, for informational purposes, women constitute more than half of the
population of teachers in Botswana’s secondary schools.
This section discusses the results of the four main issues the paper set out to
examine. These are the teachers’ and students’ English, the acceptability of BE in
the classroom, students’ awareness of BE and StBrE and the pedagogical strategies
teachers adopt to remedy the effects of the use of the varieties in the classroom.
Description of Teachers and Students’ English
The teachers characterize their English and the English of the students
differently, as Table 3 shows. The teachers believe that they speak a more refined
variety of English than their students do. A sizable number (17.2% for CJSSs and
35.7% for SSSs) of the teachers regard the variety of English used by their students
as unacceptable because it is of poor quality. A greater number of the teachers is of
the view that the variety is acceptable locally (39.9% for CJSSs and 28.6% for SSSs).
Although some teachers did not respond to the question (20.7% and 7.1%
respectively), it is evident that the teachers generally characterize the variety of
English used by their students negatively.
Table 3: Teachers’ Description of the Language they and their Students Use
Description of variety
L(ocal) unacceptable English 5(17.2%) 5(35.7%) - -
L English accepted by local
L English accepted by
2(6.9%) - 2(6.9%) 1(7.1%)
L English accepted by local
2(6.9%) 2(4.3%) 14(48.3%)
International English of British
1(3.4%) 1(7.1%) 7(24.1%) 7(50%)
International English of
- - - -
International English of mixed
1(3.4%) - - 2(14.3%)
Any other description
No response 6(20.7%) 1(7.1%) 3(10.3%) 1(7.1%)
6 Marang, Vol. 17, 2007
The language of the teachers on the other hand they describe positively. All
teachers, both diploma and degree graduates, speak a variety of English accepted
both locally and internationally. This is especially interesting as classroom
observation has shown that the teachers code switch extensively in class and use
the variety of English described above as BE. The teachers’ views are similar to
those of parents who, in Arua and Magocha (2000:287-288), are reported to be
happy with the English used in local schools. They think that the English is
comparable to other varieties used in other parts of the world. This implies that
both teachers and parents believe that teachers are good models for high school
students acquiring English in Botswana.
Acceptability of Botswana English in the Classroom
How should BE be deployed in the classroom? Table 4 contains the
teachers’ views on this. Teachers do not know whether it is right to use BE for class
discussions and oral presentations. Many of them (41.8% and 42.9% for CJSSs and
SSSs respectively) indicate that it is acceptable. But an equally large number
(34.5% and 28.6%) thinks it is not. The responses here may be due to a lack of
understanding of the variety that constitutes spoken English in the classroom.
StBrE already has the plain (and informal) style in which class presentations are
normally conducted. To this is now added a local variety which is also used in class.
There is, therefore, some degree of uncertainty regarding whether the new variety
should be allowed in class. It is clear from the discussion that the use of English for
oral presentations depends largely on the views of each teacher. The lack of
agreement on what constitutes the language of classroom presentation is certainly
not good for the effective teaching of English in Botswana.
Table 4: Acceptability of Botswana English
In formal writing 1(3.4%) 1( 7.1%)
In the spoken form 13(41.8%) 6(42.9%)
No response 7(24.1%) 3(21.4%)
In formal writing 19(65.5%) 11(78.6%)
In the spoken form 10(34.5%) 4(28.6%)
No response 8(27.6%) 1(7.1%)
There is no confusion regarding whether BE should be used in formal
writing. The majority of the teachers (65.5% for CJSSs and 78.6% for SSSs) are of
the view that it should not. Again, this could be connected to the fact of the
uncertainty of what its syntactic and lexical features are, although, as indicated
elsewhere in this paper, the features are now being specified. There are no
dictionaries or lexical lists that indicate the words that are legitimately part of the
variety or the circumstances in which the words can be used. This is, perhaps, the
Arua E. Arua 7
reason why second language varieties such as BE are classified as informal, as
Kamwangamalu and Chisanga (1996) have done in respect of Swazi English. It
follows then that the variety of written English available to students in the high
school is StBrE, the variety in which textbooks are written.
Awareness of Varieties of English and its Effects on Students in the Classroom
The teachers commented on whether their students are aware of the use of
BE and StBrE in the classroom and what the effects of the varieties have on them.
Table 5 presents the views of the teachers on their students’ awareness of the
varieties. Again, a majority of the teachers indicate that their students are not
aware of the varieties. This lack of awareness makes it difficult for students to
understand the need for contextually motivated choices in the use of English. The
lack of awareness also has other negative effects, if teachers’ accounts of their
observations of their students in the classroom are to be trusted.
Table 5: Awareness of the Variety
One variety - 1(7.1%)
Two varieties 1(3.4%) 2(14.3%)
Lack of awareness 21(72.4%) 9(64.3%)
No response 7(24.1%) 2(14.3%)
First, students exhibit fear and confusion regarding their use of English in
the classroom. This is mainly because, according to the teachers, they are not
always sure that they are going to make appropriate lexical, grammatical and
semantic choices as they attempt to verbalize their thoughts. A hostile classroom in
which students are sometimes derided for their lack of knowledge in and ability to
use English adds to the students’ insecurity about their oral communication. These
twin factors of confusion and fear are also the reason why many students in class
do not speak or use English, unless they are responding to specific questions from
the teacher. In addition, they account for why some students have no interest in
acquiring the language. There are, then, too many problems, from the students’
perspective, associated with the learning of English.
Second, students speak a mixed variety of English with BE as the base
dialect. In other words, they map alien words and structures onto BE. This they do
in three ways. One, students generally translate from their mother tongues into
English. This is an acknowledged communication strategy for ESL learners, as Ellis
(1985:184) shows. The translation shows that the students are thinking and
forming their concepts in their mother tongues or second languages before
transferring them into English which is a third language for some Batswana
students. Two, students use tsotsitaal, a pidgin which resembles English but has
elements of Afrikaans and other Southern African languages in it. The students’
thinking may be based on the fact that the use of tsotsitaal is preferable to either
8 Marang, Vol. 17, 2007
the mother tongue or any other local language as a substitute for English in
instances in which they are not able to use English. Three, students use American
slang, the type generally heard, on Channel 0, a music channel on the South African
Multi-choice TV network that features black American rappers and others whose
use of English is almost always informal and slangy. As some of the teachers
indicate, students want to imitate the musicians they see on TV. They, as a result,
generally adopt the language of those they are imitating.
In order to remedy the negative effects of BE and StBrE in the English
language classroom in Botswana, the teachers employ three teaching strategies.
The first one is traditional – explicit and direct teaching of the differences between
the varieties and how they should be deployed in spoken and written contexts. The
teachers indicate that they produce examples of the varieties and point out the
differences between them. They also define and describe some linguistic
metalanguage such as standard, official, informal, formal and so on. It is a moot
point whether defining these labels at the high school level would be of much help
in making students understand how to use English well, but the teachers think that
it is necessary, as they would make the students aware of English language varieties.
The second strategy adopted by the teachers is to increase the opportunity
for students to practise communicating in English in their classes. As is very well
known, a rich linguistic environment does not exist in many natural ESL
environments, especially those where English is spoken as an official second
language. This situation differs radically from countries such as the UK and the
USA where the environment alone can guarantee the effective acquisition for
second language learners of English. There are limited opportunities to practise the
use of English outside of school hours for many high school students, especially in
the remote areas of Botswana (Arua et al, 2005). The consequence of this is that
many students revert to their mother tongue(s) after school. It is appropriate for
teachers to give their students enough time to practise the use of English through
role-plays, debates and classroom presentations and discussions. In such situations,
they can monitor the rate of development of their students more effectively.
The last strategy that teachers cite is modelling proper use of English for the
students. Teachers model both the written and the spoken aspects of English. The
written aspect is certainly not problematic. They present essay samples and other
kinds of writing which they want the students to copy. They point out the
characteristics of the essays, so that students can see and understand what
constitutes a good essay of either the formal or informal type. This echoes the
product approach which should not be the only approach that should be adopted in
teaching students how to write well.
The spoken aspect of the modelling behaviour is problematic, as there is no
standardized Botswana accent to be adopted. Indeed, there has been no attempt to
study the sound pattern(s) of Botswana English as has been done for some African
varieties of English (see Tiffen, 1974; Arua, 1999, for example). Some phonology
Arua E. Arua 9
experts insist on the use of native speakers as models (Atoye, 1987; Gimson,
1980:300). This practice, of the use of native speakers as models, is still very much
in evidence in Asian countries where native speakers without linguistic training are
employed to teach English on account of their correct accents.
However, as this is
neither practicable nor acceptable in Botswana’s sociolinguistic situation, Batswana
teachers should serve as models. The teachers would need to undergo in-service
training to discuss issues related to the phonology of BE. This would enable them to
become more aware of their accents. This would, in turn, check teachers’ modelling
of different accents and teaching styles, a phenomenon that does not bode well for
the teaching of English in Botswana.
Undoubtedly, the study of language use in the classroom is important. This
study itself is important in that it points to the difficulties inherent in not specifying
a model of English for the teaching and learning of English in Botswana.
Accordingly, there is need for a discussion on the model of English that should be
adopted both in teaching and examining. As things currently stand, students are
taught using a local, supposedly inchoate, undefined model and examined using
Standard British English whose character in Botswana is not as clearly understood
as it was in the past.
It is obvious that teachers need to be taught student management skills.
These are skills that would enable them to encourage their students and to improve
the English language learning situation by removing fear and confusion from the
learning environment and in the teaching process. The skills would also enable
them to adopt student-centred participatory approaches to teaching and learning.
In other words, teachers need to support their students and get the students to
support one another in the English language learning process.
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Bakwena Kgari Community Junior Secondary School
Denjebuya Community Junior Secondary School
Ledumadumane Community Junior Secondary School
Maikano Community Junior Secondary School
Makhubu Community Junior Secondary School
Mannathoko Community Junior Secondary School
Mogoditshane Community Junior Secondary School
Mojamorago community Junior Secondary School
Pandagala Community Junior Secondary School
Phatsimo Community Junior Secondary School
Ponatshego Secondary School
Ramotswana Community Junior Secondary School
Ranokanyane community Junior Secondary School
Swaneng Hill Secondary School
Tutume McConnell College