Masithethe isiXhosa, zihlobo zam!

23 March 2006

Molo. Unjani? Ngubani igama lakho?

If this simple greeting (Hello, how are you? What's your name?) is beyond your comprehension, then the beginners' course in isiXhosa for staff is for you.

Launched this month by the Centre for Higher Education (CHED), the course is a major step in bridging the linguistic and cultural gap between students and staff by equipping them with basic interpersonal communication skills in Xhosa.

A basic working knowledge of an African language will assist a lecturer to identify difficulties experienced by certain students who have been plunged into an English-speaking environment, and which affects their academic performance.

However, the thought of grappling with grammatical rules in a different language can be daunting if not outright frightening.

CHED has adopted a more relaxed, communicative approach in which learners are immediately steeped in the language from day one. Participants are introduced to a rich assortment of expressions that enables them to ask and answer questions, initiate and respond to various statements and engage in face-to-face conversations. They are then put through their paces through role play and acting out different scenarios, such as a classroom or a cafeteria.

Multimedia and online language learning tools are also used.

The course is also an introduction to isiXhosa culture.

Project co-ordinator, Associate Professor Mbulungeni Madiba, explains: "In whatever language you use, knowing what to say, how and when to say it, and to whom, is crucial. Having background cultural knowledge will guide you in expressing yourself appropriately."

The course will run over 12 weeks, after which certificates will be issued, based on an oral and written, examination. Staff who do not take the test will still receive attendance certificates if they attend at least 80% of the sessions.

Course participation will also be taken into account in the PASS and academic staff performance appraisal.

The project is in its pilot stage with lessons being conducted among CHED staff.

Through the pilot, CHED hopes to ascertain whether staff can acquire basic conversational skills and to pinpoint the challenges involved.

The aim is for all staff at CHED to have done the course within three years (those who are already proficient in isiXhosa are of course exempted).

Based on its success, the programme will then be rolled out to other faculties.

The isiXhosa course is part of the broader university Multilingualism Education Project (MEP) designed to acknowledge the other languages in use within UCT.

Dean of CHED, Prof Nan Yeld, comments: "Communication courses in isiXhosa are not new to the university. What is of particular interest to MEP is how best to promote multilingualism among the majority of UCT's staff. We will carefully evaluate the course to see how effective this approach is and if we will need to develop customised courses for different units. We may also need to provide follow-on courses for staff and students to meet functional needs, such as reading the Monday Paper in isiXhosa, Afrikaans and English."

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