[lg policy] South Africa: Deciding on our children's language of future

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Mon Nov 21 15:13:38 UTC 2011

Deciding on our children's language of future
Jackie May | 20 November, 2011 23:56

A young boy's mother has been asked by another parent to dissuade her
son from speaking English to his classmates. The primary school he
attends is Afrikaans medium. Although the boy's father is Afrikaans,
he speaks English at home. The school, by all accounts, is a
delightful community school and is for many people in its
neighbourhood the obvious choice for their children. But not all are

It's an especially strange response from a parent when you know the
school has chosen English as its first additional language for the new
policy to be introduced next year. This story surprised me. We're
living in a fiercely multicultural country. We have an abundance of
official languages, and the more we can listen and hear one another,
the better we can understand each other.

And what harm is there in speaking English on the playground? Surely
it's not still regarded as the language of the "vyand?" The fierce
emotion around language, hopefully not alienating anybody, was
illustrated at my children's school recently.

It is tackling the new language policy and there's a robust debate
among the parents about which language to choose. Parents are taking
this very seriously. Some parents want Afrikaans, others Zulu.

The Department of Education's policy, which will be introduced next
year, means that, by the end of the foundation phase of primary
school, Grade 3, or by 10 years of age, your child will be able to
speak, write and read an additional language.

With this change to near fluency by Grade 3, the needs of the school
will change. Afrikaans would be the most practical choice, some think.

But when the school presented a proposal to the parents suggesting
this, many disapproved. Later this week we will vote on the issue,
after more discussions.

The debate is interesting. It's emotional. It's about resources. It's
about values. It's about matric results - apparently it's difficult to
achieve an A for Zulu. But what about our children as adult South
Africans? In Johannesburg, we live with more Zulu, Tswana and Sotho
speakers than with Afrikaans speakers.

I don't know what the outcome of the vote will be. I hope the decision
is to teach Zulu, although Zulu might be totally useless to my
children if they want to live in China one day. Mind you, Afrikaans
would be too.


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