We MUST learn vernac

There is no need to learn vernacular languages in Higher Institutes of learning They say. English will get you further because it is the language used in business and other formal platforms They remark.

What businesses are these and what formal platforms do they speak of? They have shown great disdain for the University of Kwazulu-Natal’s (UKZN) decision to make Isizulu a compulsory semester course for all first year students. Why?

They say that this is a waste of time and it is wrong to force a language on people. They forget that if it were not for colonisation, English would be foreign to us as Africans. They forget that English was, and still is technically forced on us every single day.

They, represent all the people in our country who have come to believe that English is not only a better language but a superior one too. They, represent those people who think learning Isizulu is worthless and it would be more worthwhile to learn Mandarin or French. They, are black, white, Indian and coloured and Asian. They are elitist South Africa.

I sat in court this entire week. And the only case I heard that was conducted solely in English was in the South Gauteng High Court and was between business men. The rest, were in Johannesburg’s magistrate court and were conducted in two or more languages.

The languages used varied from Sesotho to Portuguese. It was interesting and also sad to watch. There were people who looked as though they did not understand what they had been charged for or why they had been sitting in a holding cell for up to 37 days.

One case that stood out to me was one where I understood both languages being used. The man, who was accused of assaulting his baby’s mother was originally from Bethlehem and communicated best in Sesotho.

At some point during his cross-examination the State Prosecutor asked him something which the court interpreter completely botched. I was shocked. It was a completely different question to what the prosecutor asked and because she [the prosecutor] did not understand Sesotho, she just assumed the accused was being evasive and moved on.

After the trial I asked one of the attorneys if this was a common occurrence in the court. He said yes and proceeded to tell me that often attorneys ignore messages that are lost in translation when this works in their favour. He said often people were convicted for crimes simply because their testimonies were weak due to misinterpretations.

They say in formal platforms African languages are not used and it is not necessary to learn them. They say African languages are simply for leisure. They are wrong. If an attorney can lose a case because he was not aware that the interpreter misinterpreted his clients’ testimonies, then They are misguided.

We live in a country that is rich with culture and it is sad to know that most people only learn two if not one of our 11 official languages in their lifetime.

I am a 23-year-old female. My mother tongue is Tshivenda and I am proud to say I am multilingual. It is enriching to be able to communicate with most people I meet in their mother tongue. It allows you to interact with people from all walks of life and makes life interesting.

Also, fewer people can gossip about me.

I personally believe that every South African should know a minimum of three languages. It just makes sense.

The argument that English is the “professional” language of South Africa is baseless. No one is saying we must be taught in our vernacular languages relax. All we are saying learn them along with your English.




4 thoughts on “We MUST learn vernac

  1. I personally agree that being multilingual is beneficial for everyone and if you are in KZN learning Zulu is a great idea. if you are in Johannesburg knowing sotho will serve you well and so forth . I agree, but interms of our courts, I don’t think that will solve the problem. in a country with more than 11 official languages which one do u learn? Many of the cases are with people from other african countries, must one learn those as well. I think it would be better to train the interpters and find ways to keep them accountable. Create a platform in which people can come and say ‘actually that traslator was talking rubbish’.


  2. Back in my day when i did my undergrad, (so it was not so long ago :)) there was a compulsory computer course that you had to do to graduate. I don’t know if this is still around but I assume it is. Because Wits wanted to make sure that you know at least the basics of word and excel etc. I think this is the same with make some african language compulsory at varsity. If you are in UKZN learning zulu is a great idea. If you are in Univenda, the person forcing you do take venda classes is actually doing you a favour. I hated those computer classes (especially because they were on a sat) but they were beneficial. So I would stand by Wits if they came and said,”from next year everyone must take compulsory sotho classes”.

    But in terms of our court systems I don’t think making the attorneys and prosecutors lean a certain language will help. Our interpreters was interpreting zulu, both the prosecutor and attorney are fluent in zulu but they let the prosecutor run wild anyway. They simply don’t care.

    If the problem is the interpreter then the interpreter needs to be dealt with. Firstly, training: just because you can speak two languages it does not necessarily mean you can always professionally and accurately translate between those two languages. train them in the nitty gritties of grammar for all the languages they will be dealing with. While training them do not forget to tell them how important their job is, so important they could get fired if they do not do it well. Which is my second point: accountability. These translators do what they do because they know that no one is going to come and tell them what they did is wrong. That’s the problem, I should be able to go to room G23 and report the translator who was working on case 48/2345/12 for saying things they were not asked to say or for intentionally giving the wrong interpretations.


  3. Being multiligual is good. I am multilingual myself and I encourage it. But it is honestly not feasible in the schooling system. We are already battling to make it work, in English, now introducing a whole new language is going to complicate things on another level. Sadly, English is a superior language. Not that it is better than others, but superior in that it is international and most understood worldwide. Knowing English, will have you in better stead in any global career. Yes it is “forced” on us, but “forcing” another language on people won’t better the situation. Then you can argue that why are the other 7 official languages not being enforced in institutions? At the end of the day, multilingualism is a choice. just because one lives in South Africa, you can’t make them know all the languages or at least 3 or whatever. Most SA blacks, are inclined to be multilingual because they have their home language then there’s English which they are taught in school. You can’t make white people, that mostly speak English, learn Zulu or Sotho etc. I feel like you’re reading way too much into this and are making it very political (for lack of a better word). The reason why people are encouraged to learn Mandarin and French is because they are the fastest growing, secondary to English, most dominating languages in the world, which cannot be said for Afrikaans, Zulu, Sotho, Japanese, Finnish and other inferior languages.

    One of the main reasons people go to University is because they have the freedom to choose what they want to study. What will happen when thousands of first years fail Zulu?? are they going to have to keep taking it until they pass it? will they be allowed to progress to second year? what if even in their final year they don’t pass it? are they going to be denied graduation? hmmm?


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