Battle for the mother tongue: The struggle for Sesotho

2013-09-24 08:00

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It’s a complaint that reverberates around our multilingual country. Many of our children who are taught in English battle to speak their mother tongue. City Press asked four families how they keep their languages and heritage alive.

Marketing boss Thabang Ramogase pays R4?000 a month for a tutor to come to his house every day to teach his child his mother tongue.

Ramogase – the former marketing manager of Nando’s in South Africa, Botswana, Swaziland and Namibia, and the brain behind many of the franchise’s famously daring adverts – now consults for the University of Cape Town’s Unilever Institute of Strategic Marketing.

He lives in Midrand with his wife Tshidi, who works in corporate affairs, and together they do their best to ensure that their children, Onkgopotse (12) and Tokelo (10), speak their home language, Sesotho.

For this family, living in Midrand has its drawbacks. “You have a situation where a black child grows up with absolutely no command of his mother tongue,” said Ramogase.

Onkgopotse has a decent command of Sesotho but Tokelo has battled to pick up the language his parents hold so dear.

“My son was a little delayed in as far as speech is concerned,” says Ramogase.

“Add to that our move to the suburbs. He doesn’t get to interact much with his own kind, which would have afforded him the opportunity to pick up Sesotho passively. The thing with language is, you learn to speak it when the people around you speak it.”

Ramogase and his wife decided to call in the tutor six months ago.

“His command of the language is important to my wife and I, therefore we decided to pay a tutor to teach him.”

Tokelo, who has special educational needs, attends the Cedarwood School in Glenferness, which teaches English as a first language and Afrikaans as a second.

Ramogase lambasts the shortage of options in the school’s curriculum.

“It blew my mind that my son is forced to learn Afrikaans as a second language – in South Africa in 2013! I mean, his home language is by far a greater priority, but the option just isn’t there.”

Though costly, the tutoring is paying off.

“It is working out very well. Tokelo is much more conversant in the language,” he says.

The Ramogases have since convinced Cedarwood to introduce extramural classes in other African languages, including isiZulu, Setswana and Sesotho.

“The school now teaches African languages after school like a typical extramural.”

» This story at first incorrectly referred to Tokelo as Pokelo

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