This is an account of students'' acquisition of academic literacy at the University of the Western Cape, South Africa. The study, a series of four qualitative case studies, is set in an Arts Faculty with a focus on students studying linguistics. Located within a broadly socio-cultural and contextual approach to literacy, it demonstrates the interrelatedness of issues of second language and academic discourse, and affirms the significance of prior learning in higher education. The study considers the institutional context, students'' own perceptions, lived experiences and extracts of the students'' writing. The monograph argues that policy planners and lecturers should investigate, and take into account,their students'' prior learning, in order to enhance student engagement and academic success.