CHERTL Conversation focuses on translanguaging as a teaching and learning strategy

Ms Sandile Phakathi and Ms Lalu Mokuku responding to questions shared by the audience
Ms Sandile Phakathi and Ms Lalu Mokuku responding to questions shared by the audience

By Student Reporter


CHERTL, in collaboration with the University’s Language Committee, held a campus-wide Conversation on using language as a resource for teaching and learning on 4 September in Eden Grove Blue. The Conversation was part of CHERTL’s on-going series on various aspects of transformation at Rhodes University.

In her opening remarks to the session, head of CHERTL Professor Jo-Anne Vorster, said that CHERTL is interested in working with academics to devise and disseminate strategies that promote the use of different languages in classes at Rhodes; and particularly the home languages of students.

Ms Sandile Phakathi of the Economics Department, and Ms Lalu Mokuku of the Drama Department both shared their experiences of using translanguaging as a pedagogic strategy to enable students to develop their understanding of dense disciplinary concepts and content, first in their home languages, and then in English. The Department works closely with Sisonke Mawonga, a PhD candidate in the African Languages Section of the School of Languages at Rhodes. Mawonga’s research focuses on using translanguaging in higher education classrooms.

Phakathi said that Economics students took time to warm to the department’s translanguaging intervention, but many indicated in an evaluation questionnaire, that they found the strategy useful in developing their learning of Economics and enabled them to “better conceptualise concepts taught in their native languages”. She highlighted in closing that, “there is potential to make Rhodes University a more open, and transformed learning environment through interventions such as translanguaging”.

Lalu Mokuku, a Theatre Practice lecturer in the Drama Department, told the audience about the play, Pitso ea Linonyana, a dramatized animal satire written in Southern-Sotho in the 1920s that she directed with a group of students earlier this year.

Mokuku said that the department envisaged a modernised narration of the play, which would include different-language scripts for the cast. The linguistic repertoire of the cast included Sesotho, Setswana, English, isiXhosa, Sepedi and isiZulu. To this end, the production team consulted Professor Dion Nkomo from the School of Languages, to help them extend the idea of using language through a multi-modal approach. Mokuku’s experience with Pitso ea Linonyana revealed for her the capacity of “translanguaging to remove the power and barriers created by languages”.

During the question and answer part segment of the evening, members of the audience discussed issues such as what distinguishes translanguaging from code-switching, and whether there was a need for translanguaging in assessment as well as in teaching. CHERTL’s Anthea Adams closed the Conversation by commending the lecturers and students for their endeavours in tackling the dominance of English as the language of instruction so that both students and staff can “feel valued for the linguistic contributions they bring from home”. She pointed out that this is an on-going process which is reflected in Rhodes University’s commitment to inclusivity, and representation, as exemplified in the institutional policies on Language, and Curriculum Development and Review.

Video recordings of the conversation are available here.