“I have been lucky enough to be able to indulge my passion for languages from the onset of my career, and at the same time, to keep on innovating and transforming what I do,” says Dr Kim Wallmach, who studied languages and later also completed a Masters and PhD in translation at the University of Witwatersrand.
“I taught translation and interpreting for over twenty years, and co-owned an agency along the way. The opportunity to manage the language centre at Wits University added a different dimension for me in terms of the business of language, and I’m very glad to be able to share my experience here at Stellenbosch University.”
Wallmach is excited about working with different stakeholders at SU to take on the many language complexities facing the institution, because “times of challenge offer the opportunity for us to make a real difference”.
“SU understands the importance of language – that language addresses issues of transformation and identity. We may not have all the answers yet, but we know the importance of finding solutions.”
The Language Centre, which resorts under the Vice-Rector: Teaching and Learning, Prof Arnold Schoonwinkel, plays an integral part in finding practical ways to effectively implement SU’s Language Policy of 2016 (first implemented in January 2017). The appointment of two sign language interpreters at the Faculty of Education at the beginning of 2017 is one of the ways in which SU is living up to its commitment of broadening access.
According to an article published in the African Journal of Disability (2016), data obtained from the Department of Higher Education and Training for the period 2003–2010 indicated an increase in the number of Deaf students registered at higher education institutions in South Africa; from only 155 in 2003 to 326 in 2010.
The article goes on to highlight that despite this growth, Deaf students remain completely under-represented and under-supported in higher education. Deaf students have complex needs because of communication barriers and the cost of providing suitable educational interpreters.
Wallmach says she hopes that more Deaf students will enrol at Stellenbosch in the future now that the university is better geared to support them. “Deaf students have to overcome huge barriers just to get into university, and I really hope that we at SU will be able to create a Deaf-friendly environment that will encourage more students to enrol and to make a difference. South Africa needs more Deaf professionals, particularly in the field of education.”
Multilingualism is the cornerstone of the Language Centre, and this is in line with the multilingual thrust of the University’s new language policy. “SU is now positioned as a world-class multilingual South African university – one of the few in this category, which is sorely needed in a country with eleven official languages. It is therefore imperative that the university ensures that language is not a barrier to access, but a tool for success, especially in diverse educational settings,” Wallmach says.
She adds that apart from the focus on institutional multilingualism, which has traditionally been part of the Language Centre’s mandate, this strategic thrust will necessitate additional focus on individual and community multilingualism and reflects an understanding of the importance of utilizing language as a way of broadening access to ensure success, with an emphasis on social impact. A specific priority is to improve the attitudes of staff and students regarding the value of individual multilingualism.
“We need to change attitudes about languages and create language awareness. Promoting individual multilingualism among staff and students is an important focus for us, because it contributes to an inclusive environment. Making an effort to learn someone else’s language shows that you are willing to take a step closer,” she says.
Guiding staff in a continued effort to innovate in language-related spaces is another goal of the Language Centre. And as someone with a keen interest in blended learning, interpreting and translation in institutional contexts and sign language, Wallmach is looking forward to continuing her research in these areas.
“Someone once said, ‘Change is a little bit scary, but it’s also often a little bit wonderful; it allows one to reinvent oneself, to aspire to be someone new’. I’m looking forward to embracing change together with the staff at the Language Centre and the greater SU community. We are all passionate about language, and I believe that together we can do great work.”
MORE ABOUT THE
SU’s Language Centre, situated in Crozier Street, next to the Department of Journalism, has 62 staff members and is divided into three environments: The Office of the Director, plus the two main environments, Language and Communication Development (LCD) and Language and Communication Services (LCS). LCD staff teach courses in language acquisition in isiXhosa, Afrikaans and English, as well as teaching academic literacy and professional communication for various faculties. They aspire to create innovative learning and teaching opportunities for individuals, organisations and communities, both at SU and externally. The Writing Lab provides writing assistance in the form of consultations in any of the three languages of the university as well as specialised workshops on demand. The Reading Lab is another key service offered through the Centre, aimed at assisting students to increase reading speed and comprehension for study at university. LCS utilises its professional expertise in translation, editing, interpreting and communication design to assist the University and external organisations to communicate effectively. They also offer specialised workshops in communication design and plain language.
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