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Language in the Spotlight

Date Released: Mon, 2 June 2014 11:19 +0200

Grahamstown is home to a number of multilingual activists, and recently hosted the isiXhosa Children's Literacy Festival, organised by Elinor Sisulu and the Puku Foundation. Nandi Majola spoke to three people at the forefront of this movement.

“It is a great tragedy when a language dies, because with that language dies an entire civilisation, culture and way of viewing the world," said Professor Russell Kaschula, commenting on the threatened survival of African languages.  

Kaschula, who up until 2012 was the Head of the School of Languages at Rhodes University, currently occupies the NRF Chair at Rhodes which specialises in "the intellectualisation of African languages, multilingualism and education".

Kaschula and other advocates for multilingualism argue that the English language continues to thrive in its position as the medium of instruction in most educational institutions.

This is in spite of the presence of a diversity of languages and cultures in our country.

One of the virtues of being multilingual is the access that one has to different world views and cultures, said Kaschula.

He emphasised that in a university setting, the point of education is to open the minds of the students and to develop them into caring global citizens.

Michael Joseph, Professor of Education at Rhodes University, agrees with Kaschula about the virtues of multilinguilism, especially for the transference of knowledge and skills in the classroom.

Joseph, an internationally recognised academic in multilingualism, teaches Foundation Phase education (Grade R to 3) to education students.

He and his partner, Professor Esther Ramani, were the first to launch a bilingual degree, the BA in Contemporary English Language and Multilingual Studies, at the University of Limpopo when they realised that none of the universities use an African language as the medium of instruction.

Joseph says teaching in English marginalises many African learners who do not have it as their mother-tongue.

Using the language of the pupil to teach them can facilitate the acquisition of that language, as well as the language needed for learning and understanding concepts.

When it comes to literacy and reading for pleasure, Carole Bloch, Director of the Project for the Study of Alternative Education in SA (Praesa), says that on this continent, children have not been given the right to grow up loving books, because many African countries still value the excolonial language.

This is problematic, because children need access to a range of different language materials.

"Children who do not speak English should be able to read stories in their mother-tongue. As human beings we use stories to make sense of our lives and to nourish our morals and values," says Bloch.

The Nal'ibali literacy supplements, produced under the auspices of Praesa and delivered to Nal'ibali reading clubs in Grahamstown on a weekly basis, always feature material in at least two languages.

By Nandi Majola

Article Source: Grocott's Mail

Source:Grocott's Mail