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Xolelwa Mbuyephi
Xolelwa Mbuyephi
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Use of mother-tongue in tutorials helps learners understand better

Date Released: Thu, 27 September 2018 14:54 +0200

Hlamvu Yose, Journalism & Media Studies postgraduate student

Teaching in the home language of learners deepens understanding, according to Prof Salochana Lorraine Hassan, the Head Academic Staff Development Unit at Fundani: Centre for Higher Education at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology.

Prof Hassan presented a talk entitled “Tutors' role in 'unpacking' and 'repacking' as a dimension of language and communication technologies (LCT): a case for multilingualism” at the seventh annual multilingualism colloquium, organised by the Rhodes University Language Committee.

According to the convenor of the colloquia, Professor Sam Naidu, the Annual Multilingualism Colloquium is aimed at promoting and celebrating multilingualism in higher education. Prof Naidu, who is also chair of the Language Committee, explained that Rhodes University’s Language Policy aims to accord equal esteem to all official provincial languages and to ensure that language is not a barrier to equity of access, opportunity and success.

Hassan discussed how Legitimation Code Theory is used to evaluate how tutors unpack and repack knowledge to make a semantic wave. “Semantics is a two-code modality consisting of a semantic gravity and semantic density, where the values are not absolute and can be varied. Semantic gravity can be strengthened and weakened, depending on how abstract the information is,” she said.

Semantic gravity relies on the interpretation of signs and meaning within a particular context. Semantic density is when words are unpacked individually and meaning is condensed. When meaning is condensed, it becomes weaker. “Think about water as ‘H2O’,” Prof Hassan illustrated. “The meaning of water is condensed into the symbol ‘H2O’, which limits meaning and interpretation.”

Prof Hassan then demonstrated how the use of mother-tongue languages helps tutors move down the semantic scale to help learners understand further. She said, “The more time that is spent teaching in the home language, the deeper learning and understanding becomes.”

Practical courses such as Accounting and Physics that require formulae help tutees move up the semantic scale by explaining exactly what happens in a sum or an experiment by breaking down the formula. “Mother-tongue learning can be problematic when translating back to English due to the need of mother-tongue terms,” said Prof Hassan.

Ayanda Qomfo, a librarian for the Rhodes Humanities and Education faculties further added that the use of mother-tongue helps students find information resources faster, since they feel more comfortable and relaxed. Xolelwa Mbuyephi, who works for the Conference Office as a coordinator, also added that the use of mother-tongue makes it easier for people to express themselves as one’s thoughts run faster in home language. This also creates better understanding and is especially convenient when asking for something. The challenges of a second language includes misunderstood tonality and increased loss of meaning due to limited understanding of grammar.

Language is spoken using tone and words. Improvisation plays a role in the classroom as it allows for better explaining. Once understanding of another language is reached, better integration is possible.

The evening ended with the three winners of a multilingual reflective essay-writing competition being announced. The winners are Lwando Ntenda (student winner), Gillian Rennie (staff winner) and Thokozani Dladla (runner-up).