Breaking News – Rhodes University seeks ways to preserve African languages ​​and promote multilingualism


Head of Department of Political and International Studies, Dr Siphokazi Magadla, during the colloquium. Photo credit: Vusumzi Fraser Tshekema.

Rhodes University seeks ways to preserve African languages ​​and promote multilingualism

By Zindzi Nkunzi

Last week, Rhodes University organized a two-day colloquium on the language policy framework for public higher education institutions. Various scholars from different departments and external lecturers converged at the South African Museum of Literature Amazwi. According to Anthea Adams, the postgraduate diploma course, the colloquium was a platform for staff and students to explore the imperatives of institutional responsibility, agency and accountability in implementing the framework. language policy.

“We want to examine existing language practices and initiatives to use language as a resource in core academic activities, institutional governance, management, administration and support services. We also want to explore ways in which stakeholders could apply theories and ideas about multilingualism to inform instructional practices such as curriculum development and facilitate meaningful student learning and experiences,” Adams said.

Highlighting the demand for multilingualism and recognizing the importance of using African languages, Dr. Carmen Oltmann and Gcobisa Ngodwane from the Faculty of Pharmacy reflected on the success of their adopted initiative called “IsiXhosa for Pharmacy”. They said the initiative was aimed at third-year pharmacy students to prepare them for the community engagement program. Dr. Oltmann said language plays an important role in communication. As a result, it becomes an obstacle when people from diverse linguistic backgrounds interact in their native language because they find it difficult to use the English language as mediation.

Ngodwane underlined the importance of isiXhosa in the professional world. “Health professionals mostly operate in multilingual spaces where they have to deal with patients from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds. Patients will come from different linguistic backgrounds; communication can be difficult when a patient is unable to speak English and information is given in English. That’s why we think this program is important,” Ngodwane explained.

In order to decolonize education by providing multilingual education and developing resources in African languages, various departments such as pharmacy, economics, politics and international relations, theater and education, among others, have collaborated with the School of African Languages ​​and Literatures in a project called ‘BAQONDE’ (Improving the Use of African Languages ​​in Education: A Qualified Organized National Development Strategy for South Africa). The program is funded by the European Union and aims to facilitate and promote the use of indigenous African languages ​​as mediums of instruction in higher education institutions in South Africa. This advances the objectives of the language policy framework for public higher education institutions.

In his presentation on the teaching and assessment of international relations at isiXhosa, Dr. Siphokazi Magadla of the School of Languages ​​said that interventions such as BAQONDE serve as motivation. She said institutions should understand and acknowledge that some students struggle to understand English content. She took the initiative to have lesson plans translated into isiXhosa and would allow students to write/translate their tutoring assessments in their native language. Reflecting on the Multilingual Teaching Practices Initiative, a representative from the economics department, Dr Juniours Marire, said that they had tried to use the language as a resource for understanding concepts in economics. He said their progress is small in scale compared to the political department.

In the past, students struggling with English sought out tutors to translate their notes and sometimes for a fee. “That means there were a lot of social injustices that even to this day are recurring,” Dr Marire said. The department started looking for ways to introduce multilingual aspects into the way they teach economics. “By trying different interventions, we were trying, to a small extent, to alleviate some of these language-related inequities in the learning process,” he explained.

Dr. Marire said that these advances in Rhodes University and multilingualism and cross-linguity have the potential to make Rhodes University a more open and transformed learning environment.


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