How does multilingualism look at Stellenbosch University?

Posted on 13/11/2018 · Posted in Dialogos, Our languages, Recent news

“Multilingualism among young children has been shown to promote and develop those children’s thinking skills, problem-solving abilities and their understanding of complexity and systems. In old age, multilingualism could even combat the decline in mental abilities.” Prof Arnold Schoonwinkel, Vice-Rector (Learning & Teaching), opened this year’s Language Day at the University with these inspiring facts.

On 28 September, 75 students and staff members gathered at STIAS to interact around this year’s Language Day theme, ‘Multilingualism @SU: Creating an enabling environment’. The day was meant to create space to continue considering the diversity of opportunities that exist at a university sensitive to a multilingual approach.  In the context of a tertiary environment, Prof Schoonwinkel pointed out that multilingualism played a role in combating occurrences of racism, xenophobia and cultural intolerance, and that it was worth exploring ways to harness multilingualism in the learning and social environments on campus.

Small-group discussions gave the diverse group of participants a platform to reflect on the value of multilingualism and how an enabling environment could be created. The two main topics, ‘Multilingualism in Teaching and Learning Spaces’ and ‘Multilingualism in Social Space’, directed the conversations. Tough questions arose, such as: why do we even bother to foster minoritised  languages in education, and how does this manifest in our classrooms? The feedback from the floor made it clear that being multilingual was woven into our beings as South Africans, that it defined us and that it set us apart as a nation. Other comments were: “Multilingualism shows sensitivity to inclusiveness and uses the power that language carries in a cultural as well as professional society.” “We should be bothered by multilingualism up to the point where we commit to creating enabling environments to help create clarification and understanding. A tangible way of doing this could be by providing more trilingual (or even multilingual) terminology lists in the form of mobile applications, as is done by the Mobilex project.” The general consensus was that, in whatever way we approach the challenges of multilingualism, we should always keep in mind that we do this to be inclusive, to accommodate others and to be sensitive to individual needs. In this way, multilingualism creates opportunities for personal growth and for reaching out, rather than mere passive observation. Carli van Wyk, Chairperson of the Student Representative Council of 2018/2019, summarised the sentiment in the room as follows: “We should focus on creating a welcoming culture at SU where our values should drive our strategy of celebrating diversity and create multilingual spaces to learn from one another.”

Although the University focuses on Afrikaans, English and isiXhosa, there is also an increased focus on South African Sign Language (SASLI). In addition to interpreting in Afrikaans and English, SASLI interpreting was also available, enabling deaf students to join the Language Day conversation. If you would like to follow the conversation, view a recording of the full day here or have a look at the student invite to experience the feeling of a multilingual campus. 

Language day invite