Durban - Students and academics are adapting well to the introduction of a compulsory Zulu language course at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, despite the furore the plan sparked.

This is according to the director of the university’s language planning and development office, Dr Langa Khumalo, who told the Daily News he could not be happier with the way the course was going.

At the start of the academic year, 1 470 undergraduates enrolled for the Zulu module.

Khumalo said the 10 dedicated academics had more than adequate expertise to administer the programme.

When the compulsory course was announced last year it sparked controversy. Fears were expressed that there was a shortage of lecturers trained to teach African languages as additional languages.

Some people compared the university’s initiative with the move to introduce Afrikaans as the medium of instruction in black schools under apartheid.

Others said the move would exclude other population groups from the institution.

Khumalo, who took up the reins of a system in transition, admitted the university was initially anxious about the roll-out of the course

“We were nervous at the boldness of the initiative,” he said.

“Many were waiting to see whether this would collapse. Everyone is relieved the programme rolled out so well. We are more confident going forward.”

The Daily News spoke to two sports science students who are doing the course – Anastasia Courtelis, 19, and Sinead van Niekerk, 19.

Courtelis said the course had improved her day-to-day interaction with people.

“I greet people in Zulu in the street and they are friendlier than if I greet in English,” Courtelis said.

However, she felt the additional studies placed a burden on students.

Van Niekerk said she found that Zulu speakers respected her more when she spoke Zulu.

“I’m finding it challenging, but I found if you practise it gets easier… It is extra stress for those who are dyslexic or not good with languages because they have to pass it.”

Khumalo emphasised that the initiative was about raising the profile of the Zulu language, and not about diminishing English or any other language. It was also not about excluding people from the university.

“It cannot be haphazard, it requires conscious, careful expert planning. If you do it haphazardly, you can destroy the unity in our country,” he said.

The linguistics professor also had praise for the Department of Basic Education’s move to introduce a third language into early development phase at schools.

“It’s most welcome,” he said, “Language acquisition happens… between 0 and 16 years. Introducing it at that level empowers that language.”

This would allow the language to have a wider frame of use.

One of the aims of the university’s language office was to take Zulu into a space where it could be used to discuss subjects such as economics, health and science and technology adequately and efficiently.

Zulu was not just a “village language” used when addressing elders in the rural areas, Khumalo said.

The language office was working to achieve this through:

* Establishing term banks for words and terms that had gone through statutory bodies to be standardised.

* Creating a national Zulu language corpus, which documented published and spoken texts in the language.

Khumalo said he looked forward to when African languages could be at the core of our development.

“It’s challenging to be inventive using a second or third language.”

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Daily News