Stellenbosch University
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Learning a new language connects people from different cultures
Author: Corporate Communication and Marketing Division / Afdeling Korporatiewe Kommunikasie en Bemarking
Published: 27/09/2021

​​*In celebration of the opportunities and possibilities multilingualism creates, the Division of Learning and Teaching Enhancement is hosting a Language Day conference on 30 September. As part of this celebration of multilingualism, we will highlight some of the projects undertaken by the Stellenbosch University Language Centre.

With a friendly knock on a virtual door and a song full of clicks, Dr Zandile Kondowe welcomes her class of Stellenbosch University (SU) staff members to their next session of Masabelane ngesiXhosa (“Let us share in isiXhosa”). Through this 16-session short course for beginners, she helps participants learn and practise basic isiXhosa phrases and words.

The sessions, offered through the SU Language Centre, are held twice a week during lunchtime.

“You will not only learn a new language, but will also be empowered with multilingual and multicultural skills,” Dr Kondowe says passionately about the value of the course. “After this course, you will be able to connect with students and colleagues in basic isiXhosa conversations. In addition, you will find that you start appreciating isiXhosa as a regional language, as well as its position as an official language in South Africa. Learning a new language connects people from different cultures and creates a space for them to grow.”

One of her students confirmed this in an e-mail earlier this year. “You spoke the truth when you said that my fellow South Africans would appreciate it if I try even a little bit of isiXhosa,” the e-mail said.

“You needn’t have any prior knowledge of isiXhosa to be admitted to the course,” says Dr Kondowe, who has years of isiXhosa teaching experience at SU and Nelson Mandela University. Participants are also provided with recordings and pre-recordings. Small tests are written, and orals are par for the course, as it is a sure-fire way of getting the hang of a new language.

In previous years, Masabelane was presented face-to-face, but due to COVID-19 restrictions, she had to adapt and start thinking out of the box. Since 2021, the language short course has been offered online via MS Teams. Three iterations have been presented this year to date, with another one being planned for 6 October to 10 November.

Dr Kondowe, whom students praise for her empathetic, energetic enthusiasm as a teacher, definitely misses the personal interaction of traditional teaching, but is doing her best to ensure that her students still learn as much vocabulary as possible and get a well-rounded experience. “I enjoy helping my students become part of a broader isiXhosa culture in an encouraging learning and teaching environment.”

Virtual teaching also has its perks, however. For instance, it has allowed staff members from different SU campuses and locations to follow the course together. “I have had people from Tygerberg, Stellenbosch, Ceres, Worcester and the Military Academy in Saldanha joining. Isn’t that wonderful? Participants included faculty leaders, academics and administrative staff,” she says.

A previous student’s feedback summarises the value of the course well: “It is very good for building conversational confidence, overcoming one’s ‘fear’ of speaking a language, and getting used to saying words and phrases. It also gave me some confidence to do a bit more reading and speaking, and ask questions.”

Another former Masabelane student, Dr JP Bosman, director of the Centre for Learning Technologies, is also full of praise for the course: “In the past, I’ve tried to learn basic isiXhosa skills on my own, but without any real breakthrough. The ‘seeds’ needed to germinate my language acquisition skills, so to speak, were just not there. They have now started to germinate thanks to this course, very capably presented by Dr Zandile. The beautiful isiXhosa language is definitely taking root in me. There is still a long road ahead, but I already feel more at ease to greet my isiXhosa colleagues and strike up a short conversation.”

He says the course was “made lively” by the blend of practical language skills and vocabulary training presented in combination with information about isiXhosa culture. For instance, Dr Bosman was intrigued to learn that, in isiXhosa, the months of the year were named according to when specific plants flower in the Eastern Cape. September, for example, is called EyoMsintsi – the month of the coast coral tree.

*The course, which extends over six to eight weeks, costs R2 500. To register, visit the SU Short Courses Division website. Participants receive a certificate of attendance. For more information, contact Dr Kondowe at​.​​​