An Interview with Feliciano Chimbutane

This week we’ve published Rethinking Bilingual Education in Postcolonial Contexts by Feliciano Chimbutane. This book is in our series Bilingual Education and Bilingualism which is edited by Colin Baker and Nancy Hornberger. We asked Feliciano a few questions about what inspired his research and the difficulties of doing research in underprivileged countries.

What inspired you to study bilingual education in postcolonial contexts?
In postcolonial contexts, and in sub-Saharan Africa in particular, bilingual education is a field of contradiction and contestation. Among other things, this is because African languages continue to be institutionally marginalised, in contexts where ex-colonial languages (e.g. English, French and Portuguese) remain the dominant languages. African languages continue to be deprived of capital value in mainstream societal markets, while at the same time being regarded by their speakers as languages of locality/tradition. This sociolinguistic landscape, associated with the fact that my own country is now introducing bilingual education in formal schooling, is what inspired me to investigate the purpose and value of bilingual education in postcolonial contexts, especially where this form of education is a new phenomenon.

Nowadays, the West tends to dominate the world of academia. Do you think scholars from disadvantaged countries find it more difficult to succeed in the academic world?
Doing research in disadvantaged countries is not an easy task. Constraints include lack of funding for research activities, scarcity of resources and, in many contexts, lack of political will. All these constraints affect the quality of research and make it difficult to collaborate and/or compete with fellow Western researchers. In addition to that, it has not been easy to publish materials focusing on countries of the South. For example, many African scholars find it difficult to publish their work with Western publishers, especially when they are about specific contexts or topics. One of the reasons given by publishers has been that such materials have a limited market. Language is also a barrier for many researchers from the South. In order to be visible, one needs to be published in the so-called languages of wider communication, which in many cases means “English”. So, those who cannot write in English are condemned to anonymity no matter how brilliant their research may be.

What other projects are you working on at the moment?
I am now editing a book on bilingual education in Mozambique, which will include a number of local contributors working in this field. The book is aimed at documenting and critically exploring a variety of lessons learned during the first years of implementing bilingual education in the country. In collaboration with Jo Shoba, from Edge Hill University, I am also working in a book project on Bilingual Education in the Global South. Involving contributors from different parts of the globe, the volume is meant to be a critical appraisal of the interface between language and education, culture and economy in the global south.

Which other scholars working in the field of bilingual education you most admire?
There is a pool of scholars who I admire in the field of bilingual education. Some of them have been my source of inspiration. For “diplomatic” reasons, I prefer not to mention names here – my writings are revealing anyway!

What books – either for work or for pleasure – are you reading at the moment?
Among others, I am now reading Sociolinguistics and Language Education, edited by Nancy Hornberger and Sandra L. McKay, a great and comprehensive piece of work.

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not writing books?
I love to be with my family. So, I always try to find some space to stay and relax with my loved ones. I also enjoy playing and watching football, which is my hobby.