28 February 2022

UMP mother-tongue lecturers Dr John Thobakgale (Sepedi), William Jiyane (isiNdebele) and Cynthia Ndlovu (Siswati) weigh in on the value  and importance of mother-tongue languages. They also look at career options available for students.

According to Dr John Thobakgale it is vital for students to learn in their mother tongue because language is culture. “They shall be learning through the things that they know and see as those things shall be in their surroundings. They will also learn fast because they understand the language,” he explains.

IsiNdebele Lecturer, William Jiyane adds that a person should be proud of knowing their mother tongue well. A sense of cultural identity strengthens an individual's sense of self-confidence and helps them grow.

"The majority of parents, however, encourage their children to speak their second language at home just as much as they do their mother tongue in order to give them the best chance of defining their own personalities. Consequently, children will encounter difficulties learning both their first and second languages due to confusion. Therefore, to address and bridge the gap, students should be equipped and capacitated with the knowledge of their mother tongue to be able to transfer this knowledge to the younger generation.”

Culture and identity

Ms Ndlovu says that mother-tongue languages are enshrined in the constitution of South Africa as official languages. “It is important in teaching students as it associates the student with their culture and identity. Knowing your mother tongue well is a matter of self-importance." 

Many studies have shown that cognitive development and intellectual improvement is relatively faster in those who are fluent in their mother tongue. Through the knowledge and understanding of mother tongue, students are capacitated to transfer their understanding of language structures and related content to several languages and modules. Research reveals that having a strong mother tongue leads to much better understanding of the curriculum and more positive attitude towards learning.

Mr Jiyane says learning of African languages has benefited students immensely: "The pride they possess about their language is revitalized and renewed. Students have also demonstrated through their experience as teachers that a home language is critical in unifying society and increasing understanding.”

Quoting Nelson Mandela, 'If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.' "The statement is very true, because with your home language, you gain deeper understanding of your identity,” he explains.

To this Dr Thobakgale adds that mother tongue teaching and learning equips students with Indigenous Knowledge Systems. “This is very important because these students will never forget their roots. Knowing their roots will give them confidence in life. Studying a mother tongue also helps students to maintain their identity and sense of belonging as human beings,” he says.

Career options

Mr Jiyane notes that there are a number of possible career path students can follow when they include and African language to their studies. “Students in the Bachelor of Arts specialising in isiNdebele or Siswati can become linguists or practice as translators or interpreters in courts or parliament. They can also work privately as translators or interpreters. We encourage our students to be innovative and critical thinkers, this can be achieved by also starting their own business, focusing on language services such as editing, document designing, copy-writing and translation,” he says.

“There are those students who are also interested in teaching, after completing a BA degree, they can enrol for a PGCE (Post Graduate Certificate in Education) and start their journey of being teachers. Students in BEd. specializing in Foundation Phase Teaching who have an African language as a major, are not limited to the above opportunities. Besides teaching in the Foundation Phase, they may as well teach in other phases such as Intermediate Phase, Senior Phase and FET (Further Education and Training Phase), this is possible because at UMP we teach languages as academic subjects that encompasses full comprehension of language grammar, literature and practice,” he explains.

“The academic field is also short of qualified scholars and academics specialising in isiNdebele, siSwati and Sepedi, so there is a massive gap in the in that job field and plenty of opportunities to be seized.”

Ms Ndlovu agrees and adds that mother tongue learning students have plenty of opportunities in careers such as: home language teachers, editors, HL curriculum specialists and developers, policy developers and reviewers, moderators, terminologists/lexicographers, radio/ TV broadcasters, interpreters, authors, researchers and more.

For Dr Thobakgale, one of the most vital career opportunities available, is that of becoming home language teachers. “At schools where Sepedi language is a medium of instruction in the Foundation Phase, teachers are very scarce. Sepedi language medium in the Foundation Phase becomes a scarce skill, especially in Limpopo where many schools are running short of Foundation Phase educators. I think our students and the language can benefit immensely from growing careers in this field,” he says.

@ Story Lisa Thabethe. Pictures Supplied.