UP student Lauren Senna Fouché wins South African Translators’ Institute Student Prize 2020 for research on use of plain English in science material for educators

Posted on November 27, 2020

The Faculty of Humanities is extremely proud of Lauren Senna Fouché and would like to congratulate her on an outstanding achievement. She was jointly awarded the 2020 South African Translators’ Institute (SATI) student prize, a prestigious recognition for the most deserving full master’s dissertation dealing with translation, interpreting, text editing and related areas, including terminography and lexicography.

Fouché’s dissertation, titled ‘The presence/absence of Plain English in selected Senior Phase Science material for educators’, investigated whether and how the use of plain English to communicate subject matter to senior phase natural science teachers who lack English language proficiency can facilitate their understanding of the curriculum and subject content. Her research was driven by her own five years’ experience as a high school English teacher, during which she realised that many teachers and learners struggle with the content taught in natural science, mainly because of language issues.

She explained: “For more than 90% of South Africans, English is not their home language, but it is the primary medium of education in South Africa and the lingua franca of science. This is problematic since many science teachers are not necessarily fully proficient in English (any more than the learners in their classrooms), which makes it difficult for these teachers to digest the subject matter they must teach. If teachers are not comfortable with their subject matter, learners will be inadequately prepared.” According to Dr Idette Noomé, who supervised Fouché’s dissertation, her “MA engaged head-on with one of the most problematic issues in South African education, namely, the issue of inadequate science teaching.”

Fouché strongly believes that language has the power to make science more comprehensible and accessible to people. She addressed a prominent problem area with a language-based solution: the use of plain language when communicating with the teachers of science, who ultimately have to convey material to the learners, on the assumption that more effective communication with the teachers would have a positive knock-on effect. Therefore, Fouché advocated for the proactive use of plain English to make pertinent information accessible to natural sciences teachers. In her opinion, the use of plain English “can make basic and more advanced scientific concepts more accessible to teachers, ensuring a less problematic transfer of knowledge and a foundation for a more advanced scientific vocabulary”. According to Dr Noomé, “Lauren Fouché has made a real contribution to scholarship on the application of plain English in the South African context.”

Fouché is currently completing her PhD and teaches reading and writing to first-year students in the EBIT ENGAGE programme (the extended degree for UP engineering students). She is passionate about communication in the field of science and hopes to establish a career in this area.

- Author Francois Gilles de Pelichy

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