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South African university makes Zulu compulsory

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Sarai Pahla (MD) MBChB
Germany
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Pretty useful I guess May 18, 2013

When I was studying med at the University of Cape Town, we had to learn some Xhosa - ostensibly to communicate with patients. Not being able to speak an African language myself, I found it quite hard to pick up since I was never in environments where people generally spoke African languages. In Kwazulu Natal, however, I'm given to understand that Zulu is fairly widely spoken, such that even the minority groups referred to in the article, though not being able to speak it, would have been exposed to it quite extensively, probably making it easier for them to learn. Hopefully they will encounter situations in everyday life where Zulu will be useful - I literally didn't ever need to speak a word of Xhosa after I wrote the test after 6 months, so it felt a little pointless...

 

Balasubramaniam L.  Identity Verified
India
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Would have made a lot more sense if it had been made compulsory at primary school level May 19, 2013

We all know how difficult it is to learn a new language as an adult. University students are clearly past the age of language learning age. So this move is going to prove to be a non-starter. Clearly this is a political decision, all colonial countries have gone through this phase and South Africa is the newest independent country.

If the authorities were serious about promoting Xulu, they should have introduced it at primary school level for languages are easiest for children to learn than adults.


 

Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 23:33
Hebrew to English
I think you need to brush up your SLA knowledge May 19, 2013

Balasubramaniam L. wrote:
University students are clearly past the age of language learning age.


What?icon_eek.gif

At 18 (on average), university students are still youthful enough to pick up a new language. You don't have to be within the mystical "critical period" to be able to acquire a new language, although you may not pick up certain aspects quite as well (pronunciation mainly).


 

Sarai Pahla (MD) MBChB
Germany
Local time: 00:33
Member (2012)
Japanese to English
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Would have made a lot more sense if it had been made compulsory at primary school level May 19, 2013

Balasubramaniam L. wrote:

If the authorities were serious about promoting Xulu, they should have introduced it at primary school level for languages are easiest for children to learn than adults.


*Zulu* is only one of the 13 official languages in the country - and spoken predominantly in only a few areas of the country, but you can take as many languages as you want during your school years, and often, people choose to attend schools where they can be taught in their home language. Afrikaans used to be compulsory, but I am not sure if it is anymore - I left school a long time ago and have had little contact with the school system. Basically if you have the need to learn the language, I think you will, but if you don't, you won't - irrespective of age.

Conversely, I believe learning a language is easier as an adult when you learn it by choice because you have the self-discipline to learn properly and not skip the boring stuff, but that's just my opinion.


 

Balasubramaniam L.  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 04:03
English to Hindi
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Depends on how you define learning a language May 19, 2013

Sarai Pahla wrote:
Conversely, I believe learning a language is easier as an adult when you learn it by choice because you have the self-discipline to learn properly and not skip the boring stuff, but that's just my opinion.


I as a translator take learning a language to mean all round proficiency in it, but for many general purposes, this level of knowledge and mastery of a language is perhaps not required, and, possibly you can acquire this limited level of proficiency even when you learn it as an adult.


 

Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 23:33
Hebrew to English
Acquisition vs. Learning May 19, 2013

Balasubramaniam L. wrote:

Sarai Pahla wrote:
Conversely, I believe learning a language is easier as an adult when you learn it by choice because you have the self-discipline to learn properly and not skip the boring stuff, but that's just my opinion.


I as a translator take learning a language to mean all round proficiency in it, but for many general purposes, this level of knowledge and mastery of a language is perhaps not required, and, possibly you can acquire this limited level of proficiency even when you learn it as an adult.



You are expressing value judgements showing a preference for language acquisition over language learning (bluntly - it's not quite that simple).

"Acquiring" a language isn't necessarily better than "learning" one and someone who has acquired a language may never reach the proficiency of someone who has "merely" studied it. I mean, that's usually the case which is why non-native speakers seldom reach the proficiency of native speakers but it's really not that black and white and an adult learning a language won't necessarily have a "limited level of proficiency" by virtue of having learnt a language as a young adult.


 

ExScientiaVera
Faroe Islands
Local time: 23:33
Danish to English
+ ...
Anecdotal evidence is still evidence May 19, 2013

I can report, as a single data point, at 20 years of age, I started learning Danish. I am now fluent in Danish and I am learning Norwegian, Faroese and Icelandic, and will be capable of translating these into my native language in the coming year and will be fluent a year later in these languages. I am 30 years old today.

 

Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 00:33
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
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Myths about language learning May 19, 2013

Sarai Pahla wrote:
When I was studying med at the University of Cape Town, we had to learn some Xhosa - ostensibly to communicate with patients.


I studied Xhosa for two years at college even though everyone in our class (including all of the lecturers) knew that we would never use it and would probably forget it instantly after writing the exams. The Xhosa course was added by college administrators who thought "it is a language diploma, therefore it must teach languages, and what better than a politically correct language".

The "communicate with patients" thing looks like something similar. Patients don't speak book Xhosa, so even if you got top scores for Xhosa in your class, you would still not be able to communicate with patients. Even if you somehow managed to learn conversational Xhosa, it wouldn't help you to communicate complex medical conditions. Whoever thought that it would be useful for you to learn Xhosa so that you could communicate with patients simply don't know anything about languages or language learning.

This university will make the language compulsory for first year students only. It'll be a farce. It will be no more than a token of reconciliation. Zulu is such a complex language to learn from scratch that these students wouldn't even be able to read a newspaper with the help of a dictionary by the end of their first year. And even if they do get a good grounding in it, they'd only be able to use it in that single province, where a more traditional, bookish Zulu is spoken.


 

Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 00:33
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
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The current school system May 19, 2013

Sarai Pahla wrote:
You can take as many languages as you want during your school years [in South Africa], and often people choose to attend schools where they can be taught in their home language. Afrikaans used to be compulsory, but I am not sure if it is anymore - I left school a long time ago and have had little contact with the school system.


The current school system in South Africa is pro-English.

Basically, everyone is taught in their native language for the first three years of school, and after that, all classes are given in English. During those three years they are also taught how to speak English, but the classes themselves are not taught in English. It is a massive problem that many [black] teachers can't speak proper English and don't know how to teach young children how to speak English, so by the time these learners get to the grades where subjects are taught in English only, they struggle tremendously.

Schools are allowed to teach subjects in other languages after the first three years, but only if the parents pay for the teachers and handbooks themselves. Essentially this means that all poor children are forced to go to school in English, and children from rich or previously rich backgrounds (i.e. white people) have the option to be taught in their native language, i.e. Afrikaans.

Between 1994 and 2005 children could learn two additional languages at school, but these days there is room for only one additional language in the curriculum. This means that children learn in English, and they also learn English, and they learn whatever other language their school has the required teachers for. Previously, white learners would select the "other" white language plus a black language (e.g. Zulu), but since the government changed that system to teaching a single additional language, most schools that used to teach Zulu no longer teach it, because parents don't want their children to miss out on either of the white languages (for economic and political reasons).

Research has shown that many school children want to learn black languages at school, but the current curriculum does not allow it.


[Edited at 2013-05-19 18:17 GMT]


 

Sarai Pahla (MD) MBChB
Germany
Local time: 00:33
Member (2012)
Japanese to English
+ ...
Ah the education system May 19, 2013

Samuel Murray wrote:

Basically, everyone is taught in their native language for the first three years of school, and after that, all classes are given in English. During those three years they are also taught how to speak English, but the classes themselves are not taught in English. It is a massive problem that many [black] teachers can't speak proper English and don't know how to teach young children how to speak English, so by the time these learners get to the grades where subjects are taught in English only, they struggle tremendously.


That does sound pretty ridiculous - if they aren't even bothering to continue education in the native language past the first three years of school then it begs the question why they don't just start in English from the beginning - it makes absolutely no sense. Of course you will struggle if you were taught in a different language during your formative years... gosh, no wonder people complain so much about the education system here (fortunately I was only here for the last few years of school).


Schools are allowed to teach subjects in other languages after the first three years, but only if the parents pay for the teachers and handbooks themselves. Essentially this means that all poor children are forced to go to school in English, and children from rich or previously rich backgrounds (i.e. white people) have the option to be taught in their native language, i.e. Afrikaans.


I think that has more to do with the fact that there are Afrikaans universities that teach education - again, I don't know very much about how Universities work in terms of education, but I would imagine that there aren't many Universities teaching pedagogy in, say, Zulu for example. There are also publishing houses that are well established, teachers who are well trained and a long history of Afrikaans education - I don't think it is necessarily based on race. I didn't know that parents have to pay for the teachers and handbooks - but that still begs the question whether textbooks are even being written in native languages if there is clearly no need for them after the third grade.


Previously, white learners would select the "other" white language plus a black language (e.g. Zulu), but since the government changed that system to teaching a single additional language, most schools that used to teach Zulu no longer teach it, because parents don't want their children to miss out on either of the white languages (for economic and political reasons).


While there are obvious advantages to learning English, I think once again this has more to do with accessibility and prevalence of learning materials and teachers than having any obvious benefit from learning Afrikaans - I mean, I found Afrikaans equally as useless in the real world as Xhosa, unfortunately. Granted, there is an Afrikaans-speaking population and I assume there are some jobs that require it but I can't think of an environment where it would offer you an exclusive advantage. Old systems are hard to change, I guess.


[Edited at 2013-05-19 18:37 GMT]


 

Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
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English to Spanish
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Do they mean in linguistic curricula? May 19, 2013

If they mean they will include Zulu as a compulsory matter in linguistic or history studies, I completely agree and applaud the idea. If they mean that they will add Zulu also in technical studies, like Physics, Chemistry, Aeronautics, etc... they will be replacing scientific knowledge with linguistic knowledge and will keep the students entertained in something that will help them very litte in the long run. This would be equivalent of forcing linguistics students to study organic chemistry.

University is supposed to help students further their advanced knowledge, not create a sense of nation. The name "University" says it all.


 

Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 00:33
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
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Native language education May 19, 2013

Sarai Pahla wrote:
If they aren't even bothering to continue education in the native language past the first three years of school then it begs the question why they don't just start in English from the beginning...


Well, that would be even sillier. These children can't speak English by the time they start going to school, so teaching them in English would not have any useful effect.

The theory is that if you teach a child in his native language in the first few years of school, then his brain connects better to the things that you teach him, and if you then switch over to teaching him in a non-native language, he will do better at school than if you had taught him in that non-native language from the start.

It would be impossible to teach children in their native language throughout their school life, in South Africa. There just aint enough money for that. So you have to choose a single non-native language to teach in, and then use the best method to introduce children to it.

Of course you will struggle if you were taught in a different language during your formative years...


Actually, language acquisition theory and practice shows the opposite. You will struggle a bit at the time of the switch-over, and for a year or two, but ultimately you'll do better if you had had your initial years of schooling in your native language.

...but that still begs the question whether textbooks are even being written in native languages if there is clearly no need for them after the third grade.


I doubt it.

I found Afrikaans equally as useless in the real world as Xhosa, unfortunately. Granted, there is an Afrikaans-speaking population and I assume there are some jobs that require it but I can't think of an environment where it would offer you an exclusive advantage. Old systems are hard to change, I guess.


I think it is precisely because old system are hard to change that being able to speak Afrikaans in addition to e.g. English would give a child an advantage in current day South Africa. Learners who don't go to college will end up doing manual labour, and who will they do it for? You guessed it...


 

Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 00:33
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
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No, they will teach Zulu as a language May 19, 2013

Tomás Cano Binder, CT wrote:
If they mean they will include Zulu as a compulsory matter in linguistic or history studies, I completely agree and applaud the idea.


No, they mean that they will offer a separate subject called "Learn how to speak Zulu". The Zulu itself will not be used in any of the other subjects that a student studies.

University is supposed to help students further their advanced knowledge, not create a sense of nation. The name "University" says it all.


Actually, the purpose of a university has nothing to do with the ethymology of the word "university". A university is simply a tertiary learning institution, and the purpose of a university is whatever society and government wants it to be. Remember, the university in question is not privately owned -- it is a state owned and state subsidised institution. There are private universities in South Africa but most of them are public institutions, and they are structured around the needs of the country.


 

Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 00:33
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
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That's exactly what is wrong May 19, 2013

Samuel Murray wrote:
There are private universities in South Africa but most of them are public institutions, and they are structured around the needs of the country.

Exactly. This is exactly the mistake: Universities should not focus on covering the "needs of the country" (i.e. whatever the politicians in office at each moment decide the country "needs").

Universities should instead be devoted to knowledge and science, as well as the development of the students as individuals, a goal that goes much further than the short-term expectations of society and the political trends of the moment and has much bigger benefits for society in the long run.


 

Sarai Pahla (MD) MBChB
Germany
Local time: 00:33
Member (2012)
Japanese to English
+ ...
Good point May 20, 2013

Samuel Murray wrote:

Well, that would be even sillier. These children can't speak English by the time they start going to school, so teaching them in English would not have any useful effect.



I've just heard that actually they have abolished the system as of this year and are teaching in English from the outset.

Practically speaking, I think it would be better to start teaching in English from as early an age as possible. Of course there will have to be adjustments, but better to make them in the earlier grades when the subject matter is simple rather than have to switch later. That may go against studies, but I'll bet that from a purely performance-orientated perspective, kids who start learning in English get better marks than those who don't.

I already think that kids in South Africa start school too late from a developmental point of view, but first exposing them to English for the first time in the third grade and expecting them to achieve the same level of English as a native speaker (for the purposes of language learning at school) by the final year of school seems incoherent to me - either start them off in the language or let them learn in their own language throughout. Of course, I'm no politician, so this is all just lip-service (or the typed-equivalent).

Samuel Murray wrote:

I think it is precisely because old system are hard to change that being able to speak Afrikaans in addition to e.g. English would give a child an advantage in current day South Africa. Learners who don't go to college will end up doing manual labour, and who will they do it for? You guessed it...



Yes, that is a good point - admittedly I don't actually have all that much contact with that side of society. I wonder how that will progress in future.

What an interesting and lively discussion! Very informative. Thanks for your contribution!

[Edited at 2013-05-20 03:52 GMT]


 
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