Stellenbosch University
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Hoe sê? Konke kulungile! Language workshop leads to fascinating insights
Author: Corporate Communications and Marketing (Hannelie Booyens)
Published: 12/09/2023

In which language do you write your shopping lists? What is an expression in a language other than your mother tongue that you often use? Does language influence how you function daily? These were some of the questions participants in a workshop on multilingualism were asked to answer.

Entitled Building Communities through Multilingualism: A look at academic spaces, the workshop was attended by a diverse group of about 80 SU staff from all 10 faculties. The Language Day event was hosted by the Division for Learning and Teaching Enhancement at Stellenbosch University (SU) and executed by the Language Centre as part of the University's biannual Language Day activities to initiate positive dialogues about language at the institution.

In a welcoming address Prof Deresh Ramjugernath, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Learning and Teaching, provided the context of SU's new language policy that was approved by the SU Council in 2021. The revised policy gives effect to the Language Policy Framework for Public Higher Education Institutions in relation to language use in the University's academic, administrative, professional and social contexts.

Ramjugernath said SU is committed to multilingualism because language is a mechanism to unite and build cohesion. “All of us are on a language journey. Today's workshop is an opportunity for a reflection on our language journey and the role language has played in our personal growth and development. Instead of dividing us, language can be used in a way that builds relationships and fosters mutual understanding."

Facilitated by Marisca Coetzee and Sanet de Jager, assisted by other staff of the SU Language Centre, the workshop aimed to find ways to assist teaching staff to manage language-related classroom-based scenarios holistically, with a focus on values, guided by a multilingual mindset.

A multilingual mindset was defined as the willingness to align yourself with the idea that multilingualism is important and beneficial for promoting inclusivity and diversity, and intentionally creating spaces for individual and institutional multilingualism.

During interactive sessions participants had the opportunity to reflect on a variety of aspects of their personal language journey and identity. They were asked to consider how their own and students' identities fit into the classroom community. The groups also reflected on the values that drive teaching-learning-assessment practices and they deliberated about how multilingualism aligned with these values.

Reflecting on the value of the workshop, Dr Naina Ralaivaosaone of SU's Maths Division said he appreciated the different perspectives from colleagues. “Although it's quite hard for maths to make a big change in terms of languages, a lot of practical solutions came to the fore. One of the takeaways for me was creating opportunities in class to give a voice to students who speak different languages. Before the workshop, I knew language could be a barrier to learning but the discussions today opened my eyes to ways to overcome obstacles."

It was heartening to experience how many people still value multilingualism, Prof Catherine du Toit of the Department of Modern Foreign Languages said. “While universities must deal with many burning issues such as financial problems, it's encouraging that time and money is still spent on the value of knowing more than one language. I firmly believe monolingualism is the illiteracy of the 21st century," Du Toit added.

Dr Zelda Barends of the Department of Curriculum Studies said she enjoyed comparing notes with colleagues on multilingualism. “The language policy can sometimes seem like pie in the sky. Grappling with some of the challenges like we did today will help with day-to-day implementation."

The Language Day workshop succeeded in highlighting what a multilingual mindset entailed said Dr Antoinette van der Merwe, Senior Director: Learning and Teaching Enhancement. “The contributions from participants were very valuable in paving the way for working towards a best practices plan for us on how to navigate multilingualism in the classroom."