Vernacular translations get the message across

07 May 2010

Mother tonguesMother tongues: (From left, back) Assoc Prof Derek Hellenberg, Ziyanda Cele of the South Africa Norway Tertiary Education Development Programme (SANTED), Assoc Prof Clive Chandler, Ayanda Mpemnyama (SANTED), and Prof Madiba Mbulungeni. (Front) Zukile Jama and Ian van Rooyen.

Talk about the launch of the Clinical Skills Language CD-ROMs, and Zukile Jama glows.

Jama, based in the School of Languages, has co-ordinated the project since its inception, and has seen it overcome the odds to become a potential model for bridging the communication gap, not only at UCT but also in the public and private sectors.

"I'm excited about it, because it confirms that we can integrate languages and technology as a viable teaching medium," he explains.

A collaboration between the Faculties of Health Sciences and Humanities, the project was designed for the Becoming a Doctor course, which teaches UCT medical students how to improve their communication with patients, especially those who speak mostly isiXhosa and Afrikaans. The clinical skills CD-ROMs have been translated from English into those languages - the result of feedback from students, who recommended that the translations be done to assist them with their language learning, so they could communicate effectively with patients. By clicking on terms in the text, students are able to hear a voice explaining the meaning of each term (much like the audio on

The programme is offered at second- and third- year level, its ultimate aim to produce graduates who can communicate fluently with patients in all three mother tongues in the Western Cape by 2013. The project is funded by a South African-Norwegian partnership, through UCT's Multi-Lingualism Education Project (MLEP) at the Centre for Higher Education Development. The CD-ROMs were first translated into isiXhosa in 2008, and Jama says they were well received by other universities around the country, who see the possibility of using them as a model for other African-language teaching.

Developing them wasn't child's play, though.

Jama and his three-member team had to consult extensively with clinicians to understand some of the medical jargon, and had to coin appropriate words. And the technological expert who matched the text with the voice recordings was not an African-language speaker, which meant the process took longer than expected.

But it was all worthwhile, as the CD-ROMs have created excitement among staff and students, and the MLEP intends to roll the project out to other faculties and departments.

Ian van Rooyen headed the team responsible for the Afrikaans translation, completed last year. He said the programme is a symbol of integration and transformation, and has been designed to be accessible even to people with no computer knowledge.

Professor Marian Jacobs, dean of health sciences, said the CD-ROMs also meet the university's strategic goal of social responsiveness.

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