Stellenbosch University
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'Survival' language courses foster individual multilingualism
Author: Daniel Bugan
Published: 29/09/2021

*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.

Stellenbosch University's investment in fostering and promoting individual multilingualism among its students through its Survival Afrikaans and Survival isiXhosa courses is starting to pay off. The courses, which the Language Centre's Language Learning Hub has been offering since 2018, are specifically aimed at undergraduate and postgraduate students who have no prior knowledge of Afrikaans or isiXhosa.

To date, some 30 students have completed the Survival Afrikaans course, and approximately 60 have finished Survival isiXhosa. The Language Learning Hub has received over 80 enquiries for both courses from interested students this year alone. The language courses, which are offered twice a year (one per semester), equip students with basic language and conversational skills.

“We regard our courses as crash courses; as a way of connecting with other people in a very basic and informal manner in social spaces. The ultimate aim is for students to feel included," says Helga Sykstus, a coordinator at the Language Learning Hub. “We want to provide a safe and fun space for students to build the confidence at least to try a new language. And hopefully, they will later become more skilled through friends and other speakers of the language, and become part of a larger language community. Multilingualism is not only about promoting institutional and individual multilingualism in class; it also involves encouraging multilingualism outside the classroom, in social and co-curricular spaces."

Past course participants are unanimous in their praise of the Survival Afrikaans and Survival isiXhosa courses. “The learning environment was open, inclusive, warm and fun, which really helped with the learning experience. Languages are not my thing, but the presenter creates an environment in which we are encouraged to learn, make mistakes and keep trying. The course was a lot more practical than I thought it was going to be, and I loved that," said one student in Survival Afrikaans.

“The presenter is passionate about the language, and she always made sure to include everyone," said a peer in Survival isiXhosa. “Her energy was always positive and uplifting – even when I perhaps didn't say something correctly. She made lots of jokes and kept the class lively and awake."

A multilingual mindset

While the Language Centre has an extensive offering of courses and services aimed at promoting multilingualism, staff at the Centre are also mindful of the immense value of multilingualism as a frame of mind.

Earlier this year, Erica residence requested the Language Centre to deliver a talk on the value of multilingualism in our day-to-day interactions with one another. This formed part of the residence's efforts to live their values for 2021, which include inclusivity. “In the talk, we highlighted the importance of multilingualism and having a multilingual attitude, even if you can speak only one language," says Sanet de Jager, an interpreter at the Language Centre, who conducted the talk. “They connected deeply with the idea that the value of a thought does not depend on the language you use to express it; that multilingualism isn't a burden, but an opportunity to open oneself up to new opportunities and experiences. This resulted in a greater desire among newcomer students to learn more about one another's languages and the cultures they represent."

“Multilingualism also has huge benefits for the brain and helps graduates better demonstrate problem-solving, listening and interpersonal skills. A multilingual mindset enables people to be well-rounded individuals, able to make informed decisions by considering more than just their own views," adds De Jager.

Other collaborations

The Language Centre also teaches English, Afrikaans and isiXhosa to international students and provides courses in English for both local and international students. Sykstus says their aim is to expand their offering to some of the other African languages, and courses in Sesotho and isiZulu will be explored next.

Collaboration extends to beyond the University as well. In 2019, the Language Centre offered an isiXhosa course to staff from Leopard's Leap wine farm outside Franschhoek. The Centre hopes to expand its collaboration with other wine estates to offer similar courses to their front-desk staff, waiters and staff presenting wine tastings. Short courses focusing on Afrikaans and isiXhosa are also offered to members of the public.

“There are so many possibilities to apply language as a vehicle for cultural integration, and to encourage appreciation and respect for diversity. Further collaboration between student communities, support services and other relevant parties will enhance the impact of these initiatives even further," says Sykstus.