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We MUST learn vernac

25 May 2013, 09:15

There is no need to learn vernacular languages in Higher Institutes of learning They say. English will get you further because it is the language used in business and other formal platforms They remark.

What businesses are these and what formal platforms do they speak of? They have shown great disdain for the University of Kwazulu-Natal's (UKZN) decision to make Isizulu a compulsory semester course for all first year students. Why?

They say that this is a waste of time and it is wrong to force a language on people. They forget that if it were not for colonisation, English would be foreign to us as Africans. They forget that English was, and still is technically forced on us every single day.

They, represent all the people in our country who have come to believe that English is not only a better language but a superior one too. They, represent those people who think learning Isizulu is worthless and it would be more worthwhile to learn Mandarin or French. They, are black, white, Indian and coloured and Asian. They are elitist South Africa.

I sat in court this entire week. And the only case I heard that was conducted solely in English was in the South Gauteng High Court and was between business men. The rest, were in Johannesburg's magistrate court and were conducted in two or more languages.

The languages used varied from Sesotho to Portuguese. It was interesting and also sad to watch. There were people who looked as though they did not understand what they had been charged for or why they had been sitting in a holding cell for up to 37 days.

One case that stood out to me was one where I understood both languages being used. The man, who was accused of assaulting his baby's mother was originally from Bethlehem and communicated best in Sesotho.

At some point during his cross-examination the State Prosecutor asked him something which the court interpreter completely botched. I was shocked. It was a completely different question to what the prosecutor asked and because she [the prosecutor] did not understand Sesotho, she just assumed the accused was being evasive and moved on.

After the trial I asked one of the attorneys if this was a common occurrence in the court. He said yes and proceeded to tell me that often attorneys ignore messages that are lost in translation when this works in their favour. He said often people were convicted for crimes simply because their testimonies were weak due to misinterpretations.

They say in formal platforms African languages are not used and it is not necessary to learn them. They say African languages are simply for leisure. They are wrong. If an attorney can lose a case because he was not aware that the interpreter misinterpreted his clients' testimonies, then They are misguided.

We live in a country that is rich with culture and it is sad to know that most people only learn two if not one of our 11 official languages in their lifetime.

I am a 23-year-old female. My mother tongue is Tshivenda and I am proud to say I am multilingual. It is enriching to be able to communicate with most people I meet in their mother tongue. It allows you to interact with people from all walks of life and makes life interesting.

Also, fewer people can gossip about me.

I personally believe that every South African should know a minimum of three languages. It just makes sense.

The argument that English is the "professional" language of South Africa is baseless. No one is saying we must be taught in our vernacular languages relax. All we are saying learn them along with your English.

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