[lg policy] South Africa: (Letter to editor): Why English should remain SA ’s language of education

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Fri Jan 29 15:36:30 UTC 2010

Why English should remain SA’s language of education

LAURA Miti’s article Matric prophecy fulfilled (DD, January 12) and
Lorraine Lawrence’s letter Let’s not make reckless changes to the
language policy (DD, January 15) invite comment.

“Educational research all over the world has long confirmed that it is
educationally, psychologically and socially sound for children to
start learning in their mother tongue in order to promote cognitive
abilities,” writes Lorraine Lawrence. Sadly, all that apparently
profound observation tells us is the acknowledgement that it is
difficult for two people to communicate if they do not understand each
other’s language. In many households, from Matatiele and Mount
Fletcher to Soweto (Gauteng) and Musina (Limpopo), mother and father
speak different languages. In the latter two, there is a third – the
street language. Which “tongue” should be used for teaching there –
mother, father or street?

If Nelson Mandela and Graça Machel were of child- bearing age, which
“tongue” would the educationists and psychologists advise? Which did
they advise for Judy and Tokyo Sexwale’s children? What about children
adopted because of abandonment or Aids by people who speak different
languages? About 40 years ago, the Daily Dispatch reported the case of
a Ngqamakwe mother who delivered twins and did not want to keep them.
The then Butterworth Hospital superintendent, a Scottish missionary
doctor (believe it or not, he was a Dr Livingstone!) offered to adopt
them. Those 40-something-year-olds are probably black Scottish gentry

Then there is the case of child minders (“nannies”) who may speak a
different language from the parents, whether white or black. It was
common for white parents to panic when their children reached school-
going age (there were no creches) because the children were speaking
not the parents’ English or Afrikaans, but the nanny’s vernacular!  I
have personal knowledge of an “extreme” case where the parents
regretfully dismissed a very efficient cattle herder who bonded with
their toddler. Reason? The cattle herder was deaf and dumb. As a
result, their child was speaking in grunts and signs!

Two facts worth mentioning are that new-born – whether human or animal
– bond with the first other animal encountered on arrival, whether
parent or other, even different species of animal. Secondly, human
children’s brains have the wonderful ability – unfortunately lost if
not exploited early enough – to learn many languages. Does this not
tell us to introduce children to an international language (in South
Africa it happens to be English) as early as possible?

And then use this language as the medium of education? Finally, there
are many teachers from Ghana and India in South Africa. The only South
African language they know is English. You find that their learners
quickly learn to communicate with them. But strangely, when the period
changes and a black South African teacher enters, the English they are
speaking evaporates. — Sastri Mda, Mthatha


N.b.: Listing on the lgpolicy-list is merely intended as a service to
its members
and implies neither approval, confirmation nor agreement by the owner
or sponsor of the list as to the veracity of a message's contents.
Members who disagree with a message are encouraged to post a rebuttal.
(H. Schiffman, Moderator)

For more information about the lgpolicy-list, go to

This message came to you by way of the lgpolicy-list mailing list
lgpolicy-list at groups.sas.upenn.edu
To manage your subscription unsubscribe, or arrange digest format: https://groups.sas.upenn.edu/mailman/listinfo/lgpolicy-list

More information about the Lgpolicy-list mailing list