Language learners taught in under spotlight for #MotherLanguageDay
News / 24 February 2019, 10:07am / Sukaina Ishmail
Cape Town - International Mother Language Day was celebrated on Thursday.
The day is devoted to promoting cultural diversity and paying tribute to native languages.
In South Africa there is controversy over whether learners should be taught in the official language or in their mother tongue. There are 11 official languages in the country. English and Afrikaans are taught as the official first and second languages in the Western Cape, which is a concern for those learners who are not fluent in either.
Sibusiso Nkosi, the communication officer and spokesperson for the Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB), an organisation that protects language rights in South Africa, said African children being taught in Afrikaans at the expense of their African languages was a common complaint.
“The responsibility rests with the Department of Basic Education. We can try to influence the policy, but so far our cries are falling on deaf ears. For instance, the president failed to mention during the State of the Nation Address that this year is the year of indigenous languages as declared by Unesco.
"We are conducting research on schools that have introduced African languages in their syllabuses, with special emphasis on former Model C schools.”
Nkosi said there were materials, such as textbooks, in all the official languages, but due to the lack of demand from the Department of Basic Education, publishers were no longer keen to invest in them.
The chief executive of the Molteno Institute for Language and Literacy, Masennya Dikotla, said it took six to eight years to learn a second language well enough for it to be used as a medium of instruction, so it was ineffective for learners to make the transition from learning in their mother tongue to learning in English after three years only, as happened in South Africa.
“Language education models that remove the mother tongue as a primary medium of instruction before Grade 4 or 5 will facilitate little success for the majority of learners.”
Western Cape Education Department spokesperson Jessica Shelver said: “The Western Cape has the largest number of schools in the country where Afrikaans and English are the first and second languages. The department is, however, conscious of the importance of languages and communication in promoting social cohesion and nation-building, and we plan to strengthen the teaching of African languages through the Incremental Introduction of African Languages (IIAL) in all public schools from grades 1 to 12. It is important that all South African languages are given equal respect and status and should be taught, to promote multilingualism and social cohesion.
“In 10 schools over the past three years, the Western Cape Education Department, at the start of the second school term in 2018, rolled out isiXhosa to an extra 260 schools, including 725 Grade 1 classes, reaching 26350 learners in the province. The rest of the schools that have not implemented IIAL are being trained in term 1 2019.”
Shelver said the language of learning and teaching was determined by the school governing body. If not, the body had the power to change that.