The Touchy Topic of Classroom Language

There has been an active debate recently, sparked by UFS Vice Chancellor and education superstar Jonathan Jansen, on the benefits, or otherwise, of teaching Afrikaans kids in English, so ZA Confidential decided to take a look at the topic. What do our experts make of it?

Mario Pretorius from Telemasters:
The great Noam Chomsky, the expert in human language learning, says the capacity to successfully use language requires one to acquire a range of tools including phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and an extensive vocabulary. When our kids are capable of doing that by age 5, when they go to school, we can teach them in any second language. Until then, please let’s teach everyone in their native language and introduce an international language (Mandarin, French, English, Spanish, Afrikaans, Zulu) as an interaction language and keep each kid learning in that kid’s preferred language. I sense huge numbers of parents are ignorant of, and absent in, the learning process and abdicate that to school – which puts their kids at a severe disadvantage to those whose parents actively teach and coach their kids. For once, let’s get the politics of language out the way and do what’s best for the kids themselves.

Frans Cronje from the SAIRR:
Mother-tongue education in early years has educational benefits. But that is not what this controversy is about. What we are dealing with here is parents who use language to isolate their own children, preserve pure racial enclaves, and therefore stunt the development of those children as future citizens in what will become an increasingly integrated society. I regard this as something akin to child abuse and believe that it harms human relations in South Africa.

I was brought up in an English-speaking family and was atrocious in Afrikaans when taught it as a youngster. However, I fully support the widest possible access to language teaching for all young people. Like it or not, people entering the workforce or higher education need to have a good grasp of English. How early they have to set aside their own language outside the home – be it Afrikaans or any other language – should be an area where the parent is consulted and comfortable. We must, however, be careful to ensure the interests of the child are not obscured by the more political aspects of all this. But we must also ensure that the family language, which is an important part of one’s cultural heritage and legacy, remains alive through the growth and development of a young person, and is preserved for future generations as well. This is a tricky one. Ja, nee?

Tweet of the Day:
Puns (@omgthatspunny): When the window fell into the incinerator, it was a pane in the ash to retrieve.

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