Please pardon the very long title I used for this article, I just couldn’t settle on a name hence the long protracted title. I’d like to add my opinion on the national language debate. As a young black man that went through the majority of his high school career on a solely English diet, I’m somewhat handicapped when it comes to the language debate. I feel that this is an important issue and I’ll add my two cents anyway.
Teaching our children in their mother tongues simply won’t work. Unfortunately or fortunately (depending on the side of the fence you sit) English is the world’s dominating language. Since South Africa exists in a global environment we cannot run away from learning the Queen’s language. Besides the former the exercise is just not practical. How would this be executed in multi-racial schools? Would we have a class for Zulu’s, Sesotho’s, English speakers etc.? How’s that for nation building, our classes would look like a bad re-run of apartheid 2.0. Verwoerd would be jumping for joy in his grave. However if we were to introduce the policy in rural schools only wouldn’t that just disadvantage the learners that have plans and aspirations to purse tertiary education? I remember encountering countless children from rural schools who battled to learn at Varsity not because they were incapable but simply because they didn’t understand the language of learning. Now some might argue let’s teach university students in their mother tongue. To that I say universities cannot teach in any other language besides English if we are planning to produce globally competitive graduates, hence my astonishment that the University of Pretoria continues to teach some classes in Afrikaans. Do the graduates there have no motivations to purse careers outside of South Africa?
So what is the answer then? I strongly feel the policy of compulsory African languages in our schools is the answer if Afrikaans is not classified as an African language as the bill currently states and here is why. No where are our children more divided then when selecting their two languages at schools. You have white and coloured children picking predominately English and Afrikaans, while black kids pick their mother tongue and English. A policy where everyone was forced to learn an African language would be the biggest nation building step in post apartheid history. If the bill passed in its current state, white learners would continue to just pick English and Afrikaans and that would defeat the whole exercise. In no way does learning an African language decrease the standard of education. I’m convinced the University of Kwazulu Natal’s policy to make it compulsory for first year students learn IsiZulu is in no way detrimental to the standard of education at that institution. How is it a bad thing to expose learners to a language that is the most widely spoken in that province?
Language is powerful; it forms part of our identity and is an emotional and somewhat touchy subject. This is why all languages need to be respected be it in schools or in everyday interactions. With that said teaching our children in their mother tongues or though a noble concept is just impossible to practically implement. Making it compulsory to learn a different language though is a step in the right direction. Racism and discrimination strive in environments where there is a lack of understanding. I for one wish I could have learnt another African language especially since I now work in the ‘language blend’ that is Johannesburg. Everyone remembers Nelson Mandela famous words, ‘that if you speak to a man in a language he understands, you speak to his brain. But if you speak to him in his own language, you speak to his heart’ perhaps it’s time we put them into action.
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