Lost in translation? Tanzanian students’ views on sustainability and language, and the implications for the pledge to leave no one behind

Research output: Journal contributionsJournal articlesResearchpeer-review


  • Nico Ulmer
  • Ntiokam Divine
  • Kerstin Wydra

Purpose: Less than eight years remain to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Numerous authors underlined the importance of language in achieving the SDGs; however, its role in the process remains overlooked. This paper aims to investigate the sustainability understanding among Tanzanian students and graduates, their translation approaches and the awareness of people living outside of universities regarding sustainability and the SDGs. The importance of including language in implementing the SDGs is highlighted, and further research regarding local languages to enhance sustainability awareness is suggested. Design/methodology/approach: This study builds upon an extensive review of the current language of instruction conundrum present in many African countries and embeds the SDGs in this complex situation. Using a Tanzanian University as a case study, a questionnaire was administered to Tanzanian students and graduates, and follow-up interviews were conducted. Findings: Findings suggest that Tanzanian higher education students and graduates are knowledgeable about both sustainability and the SDGs, with most of them integrating at least one goal into their respective research. However, in the interviews conducted, interviewees stated that in their experience, only a minority of people outside of universities are aware of both concepts. The findings indicate that the aim of target 4.7 and, ultimately, the pledge to leave no one behind remain void when African languages continue to be neglected. Research limitations/implications: A case study is characterized by a lack of generalizability. Findings from this study should, therefore, be transferred cautiously to other African countries and universities. Furthermore, university students and graduates represent highly educated participants, which does not allow deductions to other parts of society. Originality/value: The authors are not aware of other studies investigating the views of Tanzanian students and graduates regarding sustainability and language and how they handle emerging translation challenges in their research. Furthermore, to the best of the authors’ knowledge, this research is the first to highlight the importance of language in achieving target 4.7 of the SDGs and, ultimately, the pledge to leave no one behind. It, therefore, represents a valuable contribution to the scientific body of knowledge regarding education for sustainable development and language.

Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education
Issue number7
Pages (from-to)1381-1397
Number of pages17
Publication statusPublished - 13.11.2023

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