Linguistics service-learning module ends in gifts aplenty

Grade 5 learners with their personal library boxes
Grade 5 learners with their personal library boxes

Rhodes University English Language and Linguistics students handed over personal libraries to Samuel Ntsiko Primary School learners after their Linguistics and Community Service-Learning module recently came to an end.

The ‘personal libraries’ consisted of one box per learner, each filled with the Nal’iBali books which the learners and students had been reading together for the past 12 weeks, a book specifically chosen according to each learners’ grade level (donated to the department by the DG Murray trust) and a storybook written by the students specifically tailored to their learner.

Tracy Probert, who lectures the Linguistics and Community Service-Learning module, described the handover as a bitter-sweet moment. “Although learners were excited about being presented with their very own personalised library boxes, they were sorry that the module had come to an end,” she explained.

The Linguistics and Community Service-Learning module is a 13-week course which provides Linguistics students the opportunity to make connections between discipline-specific knowledge and concrete experiences from service activities. One of the core focuses is to strengthen reading and writing literacy in the broader Makhanda community. This involves Linguistics students pairing with a Grade 5 learner whom they mentor twice a week for 12 weeks.  Students then return to class and reflect on the linguistic dimensions of their experience, focusing on description, explanation and practical action.

The course aims to link linguistic theory with community applications. Rather than being a content-heavy or theoretical course, it gives students an opportunity to engage with real people in real-world contexts and to apply what they have learned. The overarching question that underpins the course is “What types of linguistics do I (as a student/teacher) need to know in order to understand this context?”.

After the course, students were asked to reflect on their journey. These were some of their responses:

“It  [the Linguistics and Community Service-Learning course] gave us a firm grounding in the area of language and linguistics in a South African context, and also clearly illustrated how this knowledge can be applied to every day issues and help solve them.”

“It was a wonderful course, and really stood out. I wish that we had more opportunities to do such hands-on engagement at university, and actually help make a difference in the community.”