The Impact of Bilingualism and Culture on Students’ Academic Achievement: The case of Cameroon students in Greater Manchester Universities

This study responds to the historic and current academic debates on the effects of bilingualism and cultural on student’s academic achievements. It is based on the hypothesis that bilingualism is advantageous to students beyond the functional ability to communicate with others or with their family and that culture does matters. The claim that the structure of a language influences how its speakers view the world is today most usually associated with the linguist Sapir and his student Whorf – otherwise referred to as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. Edward Sapir, in his studies with Benjamin Lee Whorf, recognized the close relationship between language and culture, concluding that it was not possible to understand or appreciate one without knowledge of the other (Elmes 2013, p. 12). This study employs a critical ethnographic approach to investigate the experiences of Cameroonian bilingual students studying in Greater Manchester Universities. Ethnography is about telling a credible, rigorous, and authentic story that gives voice to people in their own local contexts, typically relying on verbatim quotations and a ‘thick’ description of events (Fetterman, 2010, p. 1). This research investigates how these bilingual students negotiated identity in the classroom, related to power, and strived to excel in a monolingual dominated classroom context. A central argument is that real change in the education of linguistically and culturally diverse students require a fundamental shift from coercive to collaborative relations of power (Cummins, 2000, p. 17). The literature was focused on the impact of bilingualism and culture on the academic achievement of culturally and linguistically diverse students, mostly, (but not exclusively) in higher education. Different theoretical models converged into a holistic and interactional model in which cognitive, linguistic and sociocultural factors interacted in the mapping process (Gonzalez, 1999, p. 46) of bilingual students’ academic achievement. Vygotsky’s Scaffolding is proposed as one of the best instructional methods for supporting linguistically and culturally diverse students maximize their academic potentials. Oliveira and Athanases (2017) have produced an important framework to reenvision instructional scaffolding for linguistically and culturally diverse students which were also adopted in this study. Advocates of culturally inclusive pedagogy have argued employing a more diverse range of teaching approaches is likely to be enriching to students and teachers alike. On the other hand, linguistically and culturally diverse students may be able and willing to adapt provided the tacit aspects of the new teaching and learning environment are made sufficiently explicit (Bell and Kipar, 2016, p. 96). Moreover, instructional planning must also focus on social and cultural processes and contexts of teaching and learning and the issues related to equitable instruction for a diverse student population (Wiley, 2005, p. 195).