Language proficiency in the language of learning and teaching (LOLT) is essential for academic success. In South Africa and elsewhere, many secondary school learners lack the required academic proficiency in English, the language of learning and teaching. The English language proficiency of Xitsonga speaking Grade 7 learners was evaluated in order to suggest ways in which these learners could be helped to maximise academic success. The author investigated theories of first and second language acquisition by means of a literature study and presented an overview of language policy in South African schooling before and after 1994. A sample of Grade 7 South African second language learners was selected from three secondary schools in the Tshwane metropolitan area,Gauteng Province. Language proficiency levels were determined using the Human Sciences Research Council’s Standardised English Reading and Writing Performance Tests. These tests were translated into Xitsonga and administered to them. The results revealed that there was a significant correlation between the learner’s performance in reading and writing performance in both languages.