Introducing The 'Siyakhuluma Project' By Christo Spetsiotis

2014-12-10 13:31

Christo Spetsiotis is a Durban born and based tour operator who has a passion for the IsiZulu language. He has traveled the world, worked with a number of people from different races but has always had a dream to learn how to speak IsiZulu - he started the Siyakhuluma Project, aimed to teach IsiZulu classes for people with the same passion as him. He chats to me about the project and its future plans.

What is The Siyakhuluma Project? The Siyakhuluma Project is a non-profit organisation that organises affordable, accessible and practical isiZulu lessons in Durban and KwaZulu Natal.

Why did you start this community project? I started this community project because I wanted to learn isiZulu and I found the process to be particularly difficult. I wanted a class that was practical, in my area and affordable. I actually felt that isiZulu classes should be offered for free by government. We live in KwaZulu Natal. Our province’s name literally means “Home of the Zulus (Natal: Portuguese word for Christmas)”. We are the only province in South Africa to have an ethnicity or language in our title. It’s a big statement!

I eventually found a class in Assagay on a Monday evening at 530pm. It was affordable and it was taught by an isiZulu teacher with years of experience but it was not accessible and as a result I missed most of the classes. From attending just three classes I realised how important and how practical learning isiZulu was. From there my frustration with the situation motivated me to do something about it. I knew that my family and friends who didn’t speak isiZulu wished that they could and I started becoming obsessed with the idea.

When did this obsession start? I started thinking about this in early July. I made the FB page and published the survey on the 22nd of July.

How was the response? It was positive from the start. My family and friends were all very encouraging. My Facebook friends responded well and I received messages of support from many people which surprised me. It motivated my thought patterns and encouraged many new ideas. I bounced ideas off people to get as much data as I could. The survey was a bitter pill to swallow for most. I only managed to get 30 people to do my survey and I was one of them. Although my lack of respondents discouraged me, the data I received from the survey was very beneficial. I learned from the survey that days like Wednesdays and Tuesdays between 530pm till 645pm are highly favorable for working adults.

Why do you think learning isiZulu is important? I feel that learning isiZulu is an obvious solution to our linguistically divided KwaZulu Natal society. Our current status quo motivated me to create The Siyakhuluma Project because I was surprised government hadn’t addressed the issue. People are hungry to learn isiZulu as they know that it is logical to want to understand the majority language of your area. KwaZulu Natal is our home and we should be able to speak some isiZulu. If you moved to Italy would you not learn Italian?

Tell us about your lessons? I have three guiding principles; Affordability, accessibility and practicality. Lessons are intended to promote talking in isiZulu and engagement with isiZulu speakers in the KwaZulu Natal context. The course work is a work in progress but I am focused on providing relevant language learning which focuses on talking. I have named this project The Siyakhuluma Project because Siyakhuluma means “We are talking”. People want to learn to understand what is being said around them and how to speak. Words like noun classes, conjunctions and clauses are not welcome in the class. They scare people off!

Can you speak isiZulu now? No, I am one of the students in the class. Lol

Then who teaches the lessons? The Siyakhuluma Project is working in collaboration with the University of KwaZulu Natal’s isiZulu discipline from the Edgewood campus. Together with Professor Thabisile Buthelezi and PHD student/faculty member Tholani Hlongwa, we are designing and implementing a practical course that works for our community’s perspective. Our focus is on practical reinforcement and we encourage students to leave the classroom and engage in the Zulu language. Our teacher, Tholani has taught isiZulu in the USA at the University of Illinois for over a decade. She has recently returned to South Africa to help develop isiZulu pedagogy (language learning). Her experience has been beneficial in designing a community specific approach. The students have loved her teaching approach. She is truly exceptional.

Where are classes and how can people contact you? We have just finished the November pilot course at the George Bezos Greek School inside the Hellenic Community centre in Durban North. The class was taught by Tholani. We had about 16 students who were from all age groups who were from four different language groups (English, Afrikaans, Portuguese and Greek). The Durban North class will continue next year. The plan is to open a class in all English zones of Durban and KZN. People can contact me on my Facebook page, The Siyakhuluma Project or email info@thesiyakhulumaproject.co.za.

Connect with me: Blog | Twitter | | Instagram

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