How can I support my child in isiXhosa and Afrikaans?

During the annual Sharing Conference held from 16 to 18 January at Michael Oak Waldorf, Nomamela (our isiXhosa teacher) and I had a taste of working in a language we do not know very well. Not only did the isiXhosa and Afrikaans language teachers have to learn new vocabulary words and sentences in each others’ languages – we also had homework! I had isiXhosa homework and she had Afrikaans homework. To solve this conundrum a few of the language teachers used their phones and sent each other messages with words connected to drawings or written opposite the translated English words. That did not however, help us to remember the pronunciation of what we had learnt in class that day. It also did not help us to put the words into the sentences we needed to have ready to play the story out the next day.

Of course we had a kind teacher in Louise Oberholzer – the Waldorf Federation’s language specialist.  She commented in clear and helpful ways on what each of us had prepared. Even though we move much slower with the children in our own classes and there are many, many repetitions of words in games, stories and verses, this experience reminded me of the question I have been asked in different ways from many parents over the last few years: “How can I support my child in isiXhosa and Afrikaans?”

I have an isiXhosa-English dictionary at home and this has helped me to help my own daughter during her primary school years with isiXhosa orals and spelling tests. In Afrikaans, I expect all the children to have access to an Afrikaans-English dictionary in Class 5 as this is the year we start to write short stories. That said, it was really only when my daughter was able to ask an isiXhosa-speaking carer who happened to be in our house looking after my gran, that she really felt the boost one feels when consulting someone who speaks the language well.

It is said that a ‘second language’ is deemed an additional language if it is present in the child’s community and environment and the child therefore acquires the language through direct instruction in class as well as through contact with it in their environment. It is deemed a ‘foreign language’ if this is not the case and the full exposure to the language exists solely in the classroom. It goes without saying that the latter has a very different outcome from the first. We forget that Afrikaans and isiXhosa exist in our communities if we are willing to find it and notice it.

On a whim I asked our Remedial Teacher, Tendayi Marwa, for her ‘top tip’ in supporting a child at home in an additional language and she said without a moment’s hesitation: a reference person.

Does your child have a reference person for isiXhosa and one for Afrikaans? This is quite a question to have to answer I’ve thought to myself.

I am thrilled to be able to tell you that I have the details for two brilliant teachers willing to offer extra tuition in Afrikaans and isiXhosa in Kommetjie. One is Maggie Joubert (0724255990) who has taught Afrikaans at our High School and Primary School in the past. She knows and understands the Waldorf ethos and the children love her. The other is our own isiXhosa teacher, Nomamela Sijila (0829682547). It is with their permission that I include their numbers here. Both have spaces available in their extra-lesson classes.

Is it possible, I ask myself, to have a few reference people and not only one? Earlier in the week I ran over to Bongiwe in the staffroom to make sure of a phrase I learnt at the Teachers’ Sharing at the beginning of the year. “Andinaxesha – I don’t have time – Is that right?” Yes, she nodded, pronouncing it perfectly. Then I wrote it on the whiteboard with Nomamela’s name so that she could check my spelling of it. This is what the hare and the baboon said in the story we had to play out at the conference: “Andinaxesha! – I don’t have time!” I know, from my own experience, that parents are sometimes like the animals in our story – they don’t have a lot of time.

Yesterday, as I stopped at the BP on my way home I hear the the cashier say to the petrol attendant: “Pata! Pata!”  I think he is new and does not yet know how the petrol pump works!  Sometimes at Pick ’n Pay I now listen very carefully and ask about the phrases in isiXhosa I hear whilst waiting to pay for groceries.

With a bilingual dictionary, a solid reference person and open ear and heart for the many other community reference people around us we can make a good start in supporting our children to gain a whole other, richer view of the world. That is what we give them when we help them to open themselves to another language.

 “If we spoke a different language, we would perceive a somewhat different world.”

 Ludwig Wittgenstein

(Austrian-British philosopher who worked primarily in the areas of logic, philosophy of mathematics, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of language.)

Ester Ruttmann, Afrikaans Teacher