“We are who we are through language." This was one of the key sentiments expressed during the Stellenbosch University (SU) Language Day 2018, held at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study (STIAS) on Friday, 28 September.
Seventy-five invited students, lecturers and representatives of professional academic support (PASS) environments attended the Language Day to discuss the value of multilingualism and how SU can create an enabling environment for it to flourish. The event was also streamed and recorded, and an edited version will be made available. Prof Arnold Schoonwinkel, Vice-Rector: Learning and Teaching, opened and participated in the event, which focused on open conversations around Multilingualism in Teaching and Learning Spaces and Multilingualism in Social Spaces. The topics were contextualised and introduced by Prof Christa van der Walt and Ms Denai Nyagani, after which the participants discussed the questions posed by the speakers. Each group had the opportunity to provide brief feedback in plenary sessions, and all the feedback was recorded.
According to Dr Antoinette van der Merwe, who facilitated the event, what struck her the most about the day was the open and frank conversations at the tables and the creative solutions and examples of good practice provided for the two main topics.
“One of the groups stated in their feedback, 'We are who we are through language', indicating that we cannot separate identity and language. Language is what makes us human, and the focus was therefore on respect and dignity for each other's language(s) as basic values," said Van der Merwe.
One of the other concepts that was also unpacked during the discussions was the issue of linguistic citizenship and that one cannot be part of the conversation and a citizen of South Africa if one does not embrace multilingualism.
“Acknowledging each other's language and identity is very important. It's part of our identity of being South African, and all staff and students should be sensitive to multilingualism and the struggles we have. Some of the practical solutions that emerged included the use of trilingual terminology lists, peer assistance, extended conversations outside the classroom between lecturers and students within a multilingual environment, and social events in which we celebrate multilingualism together with, for example, our music and food," said Van der Merwe.
The next step in continuing the discussions and implementing the feedback from those who attended the Language Day will be preparing a document with proposals, recommendations and examples of good practice for further dissemination. The participants were also challenged to create a more enabling multilingual environment at the institutional, faculty, departmental and individual levels.
“Change starts with the individual. All the participants should take this conversation forward in their respective environments with a focus on what they can do, and not expect other role players to do it for them," said Van der Merwe.
Prof Schoonwinkel commented: “I thoroughly enjoyed being part of the exciting discussions among staff and students from diverse language backgrounds. The Language Day yielded many constructive suggestions on how we can reap even more benefits from embracing multilingualism at SU and beyond."