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Dr Peet van Aardt
Dr Peet van Aardt

The University of the Free State (UFS) is fostering a culture of linguistics through its Academy for Multilingualism.

The academy, established earlier this year, aims at promoting Sotho, Zulu and Afrikaans on institutional and social levels.

Promotion of these languages will be driven through various academic and community-based projects and initiatives.

The UFS language policy was approved by the varsity’s council in 2016, establishing English as the primary language of instruction at undergraduate and postgraduate levels on all three campuses of the institution.

Through the policy, the university has pledged to enable a language-rich environment that is committed to multilingualism, with particular attention to English, Afrikaans, Sotho and Zulu.

According to Dr Peet van Aardt, custodian of the academy, the academy serves as a vehicle to further imbed the implementation of the language policy.

“Multilingualism is conceptualised as a tool that leverages language richness to improve academic excellence and promote an inclusive institutional space.”

Van Aardt said the student language preference survey completed in June 2020 indicated that many students find it difficult to understand their lecturers in class due to language differences.

“We also looked at multilingual models from places like South America, India and South Africa in order to structure our approach. Multilingualism has become a popular research field,” Van Aardt said.

He hopes to collaborate with universities that are implementing multilingualism successfully.

The academy is in the process of generating multilingual academic aids.

“This is not only to support learning, but also to create a more representative space on the university’s campuses,” he said.

According to Van Aardt, the new look of academic languages will help foster a culture of linguistics.

In close collaboration with the university’s Centre for Teaching and Learning, as well as the different language departments on the three varsity’s campuses, the Academy for Multilingualism will, among others, facilitate multilingual academic glossaries, abstract translations, voice-overs for lessons and tutorials.

“Our aim is to ingrain the academy in the university’s academic and social outlook through intra-institutional collaboration and becoming a leading institution on the world map of multilingualism,” he said.

Van Aardt is of the view that the newly established Academy for Multilingualism puts the UFS among the front-runners of this approach.

“Many students experience language as a barrier to learning. You just have to walk around on our campuses or browse our social media platforms to appreciate the many different languages that are used.”

Van Aardt believes that overcoming the language barrier to learning not only promotes knowledge gain, but will also help students to develop an identity within their own language cultures.

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