Nelson Mandela’s first language being cut from South African schools

January 24, 2012

Nelson Mandela is a man with a deep commitment to defending human rights. He also speaks English as a Second Language. His first language is Xhosa.

A recent article from the Times Alive in South Africa reports that language classes for both Xhosa and Zulu are being cut in South African state schools. The main language of instruction in South African schools is English. Prega Govender reports that until this school year, students were required to take classes in two additional languages, but this year, that requirement has been changed. Now students are only required to take one additional language.

Most schools in the area are opting for Afrikaans as the additional language of choice for students in that region. The article reports that in one case, the Xhosa language teacher has been re-deployed to teach Afrikaans this year. The decision seems to be driven by numbers:

“Last year, 68455 matrics countrywide wrote Afrikaans as their first additional language, whereas only 10943 wrote Zulu and a mere 1547 wrote Xhosa.”

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am strongly opposed to the removal of language programs from a curriculum.  There are a number of reasons for this:

Benefits of learning additional languages for cognitive ability

Research shows that the benefits of learning additional languages extend beyond language and cultural skills. Learning additional languages also has a positive effect on a person’s general cognitive ability (Kimbrough Oller, D and Eilers R.E., 2002). Specific research has also found that students who study other languages also score better on math tests (Bournot-Trites, M. and K. Reeder, 2001; de Courcy, M. and M. Burston, 2000; Turnbull, M., S. Lapkin and D. Hart, 2001 and Turnbull, M., D. Hart and S. Lapkin, 2003). The benefits of learning additional languages are clear and have been documented time and time again through research. We know that the more languages a young person is exposed to, the more capacity he or she will have to develop lifelong multilingual skills.

When languages are removed from a curriculum, it sends a message that the language is unimportant

It could be argued that students in South Africa will still enjoy these cognitive and linguistic benefits, since they will be studying Afrikaans as an additional language. That may be true, but making the decision to remove Xhosa and Zulu from the curriculum sends a strong message that these languages do not matter in formal education in that region.

While I do not profess to understand the complexity of minority languages or the politics of South Africa, I have studied the concepts of formal and informal education extensively.

Young students who speak Xhosa and Zulu as first languages at home have now lost the opportunity to learn their native language in an organized, formal environment, as a shared experience with peers. Though they may continue to learn the language in the informal context of the home, we know that informal learning is considered the least legitimate and is less respected than formal learning.

By removing these languages from the curriculum, those who have the responsibility and authority to set policies and make decisions send a strong message that these languages lack sufficient legitimacy to be included in the standard curriculum of formal education in the region.

Language abilities are linked to leadership skills

In previous research I have discussed how some significant world leaders, such as Ghandi, leveraged multiple languages to extend their leadership reach. Nelson Mandela’s first language is Xhosa. While not a perfect human being, he has arguably been one of the world’s most influential leaders over the past several decades. What message does it send to teachers, parents, students and indeed, everyone living in the region, that this leader’s first language, which was formerly offered as part of the standard state school curriculum, has now been cut for students in the younger grades?

While the article reports that students may still take the language in later grades, cutting it from the curriculum for children in grades one to three sends a strong message that it is not as important as math, science or even Afrikaans. Those subjects are considered part of the critical foundation of the young learner’s formal education experience. But Zulu and Xhosa… these are superfluous options that can be added later.

I worry when languages are cut from curricula. I worry when students and parents get the message that language learning is not important. I worry even more when they get the message that their first language is not important, as is the case for Xhosa and Zulu for many young people in South Africa. Formally recognizing the importance and significance of learning first languages in a plurilingual society such as South Africa is critical.

As educators worldwide we must do everything in our power to prepare the young people of today to lead the world tomorrow. Learning additional languages will help them do that.

References

Bournot-Trites, M. and K. Reeder. (2001). “Interdependence Revisited: Mathematics Achievement in an Intensified French Immersion Program.”

de Courcy, M. and M. Burston. (2000). “Learning Mathematics Through French in Australia.”

Eaton, S. E. (2010). Leading though Language Learning and Teaching: The Case of Gandhi. Retrieved from ERIC: http://www.eric.ed.gov/PDFS/ED508664.pdf

Eaton, S. E. (2010). Formal, non-formal and informal education: The case of literacy, essential skills and language learning in Canada. Calgary.

Kimbrough Oller, D and Eilers R.E. (2002). “Balancing Interpretations Regarding Effects of Bilingualism: Empirical Outcomes and Theoretical Possibilities.”

Turnbull, M., S. Lapkin and D. Hart. (2001). “Grade Three Immersion Students’ Performance in Literacy and Mathematics: Province-wide Results from Ontario (1998–99).”

Turnbull, M., D. Hart and S. Lapkin. (2003). “Grade 6 French Immersion Students’ Performance on Large-scale Reading, Writing, and Mathematics Tests: Building Explanations.”

Related posts

Formal, Non-formal and Informal Learning: What Are the Differences?

Formal, non-formal and informal learning: The case of literacy and language learning in Canada

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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

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Formal, Non-Formal and Informal Lifelong Learning (life map)

September 19, 2011

I’ve given a number of presentations this year on formal, non-formal and informal learning and how these concepts relate to lifelong learning, literacy and adult education. Here’s an infographic on how the average North American (if there is such a thing) might experience these three contexts for learning throughout their lifetime.

View this document on Scribd

Download your own .pdf copy here: Characteristics of Non-Formal Learning (.pdf)

Related posts:

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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


7 Ways to Maintain or Improve Your Foreign Language Skills Every Day During the Summer

June 13, 2011

Build your learning skillsSchool’s almost out! How are you going to retain all the language skills you’ve learned over the school year? Or better yet, build on them?

Formal language programs (the kind delivered in classrooms around the world) are often highly structured and follow a prescribed curriculum. We know that language learning doesn’t just happen in a classroom! The summer is a fantastic way to build on that by incorporating informal learning and exposure to authentic language.

Here are some ideas to help you maintain — and even build — your abilities in all four skill areas (reading, writing, speaking and listening) in the languages you love to learn. There are seven suggestions for weekly activities. If you do rotate through them, committing to doing one every day, by the time you’re at the end of the list, you can start the list over the next week.

1. Learn a song a week

Think about a song you really love in the language you’re learning. Look it up. Find the lyrics on the Internet and print them out. Listen to the song and sing along with the words. Then, challenge yourself to try and remember the words without looking at the lyrics sheet. Play the song every day at least once. Listen to it while you’re driving, waiting for the bus, making breakfast or out for a run. Listen to it over and over again until you can sing it all the way through without looking at the lyrics.  The next week, choose a new song and repeat the process. By the end of the summer, you’ll have a decent repertoire of songs in your target language! (Skill area: listening)

2. Watch a movie a week in the target language

Watching movies is a great way to get exposure to authentic language. Turn on the sub-titles if you need to. If you’re up for a challenge, leave the sub-titles off and just enjoy the film. Set yourself a goal such as: Watching movies by the same director or watching a different genre of movie every week. Watch an action movie one week and a comedy the next, for example. Keep notes about the movies you watch and any new words or phrases you’ve picked up. (Skill area: listening)

3. Read one news article a week once a week in the target language

News is a fantastic way to get exposure to authentic language – and learn what’s going on in the world. There are a few different ways to read the news. You can buy a foreign language newspaper and choose one article a week to work on. Or once a week, you can go on line and find a news article on a topic you’re interested in and read it through. Read for content and meaning, trying to get the gist of what it is saying. Then read it again to get the deeper meaning and the details. If you prefer a more structured approach, dissect the article to find the “5 Ws” (Who? What? When? Where? Why?) in the article and write them down on a separate sheet of paper. Find one or two new vocabulary words an add them to your list. (Skill areas: reading and possibly writing, if you choose to incorporate it).

4. Volunteer an hour or two a week for a language exchange with a native speaker

Language learners really benefit from working with native speakers. Check out programs at your local library or immigrant services organization to see if they have language exchange programs. These programs match people of two different languages so they can enjoy informal conversation and learn from each other. You spend an hour with that person speaking your native language in order to help them learn it. They, in turn, spend an hour with you teaching you their native language. It’s a great way to meet new friends and build your conversation skills. Having a regularly scheduled weekly appointment helps to ensure that you’ll commit to each other and to learning. (Skill area: speaking)

5. Once a week, use a self-directed activity book or online exercises

To help you practice your skills in a more structured way, get yourself a self-directed activity book or find an Internet site that has free online activities. (One of my favorites is Spanish Now.) Be sure to look for a resource that includes answers so you can check your own work. Once a week, sit down with your work book or at the computer, complete one unit in the activity book. Check your answers. If you made errors, challenge yourself to figure out what they were and how to build on those areas. It’s OK to review concepts you already know and it’s even better if you try to build on your current skills by delving into new areas such as more complex verb conjugations or sentence structures. (Skill areas: Reading and writing)

6. Build your own vocabulary list

Many of the activities listed above give you the chance to pick out new words, write them down and learn them. You can write them in a notebook, create your own flash cards or do whatever works best for you. It is important to write them down, say them aloud and try to incorporate them into your speech. If you’re stuck for ideas, look around your house. Do you know all of the words for household items? Food? Clothing? You can build your own theme lists, if the idea appeals to you. Take the time to learn words that may not appear in your course textbooks. Chances are, those words will come in handy some day! (Skill areas: Reading and writing)

7. Once a week, check out a new restaurant, store or cultural event that specializes in your target culture or language

Choose one day a week, say, Thursday, where you make a point to try a restaurant you’ve never been to where they serve authentic food from someplace where your target language is spoken. Try to speak to the staff in the target language. Ask questions about the menu. Alternately, find the shops around your city that import food an other goods from the countries where your target language is spoken. Find out where they are located and go there. Explore the store and find one or two new products to try. Talk to the staff and tell them you are curious and want to learn. Chances are, they’ll be pleased to help. Finally, make a point to find out about cultural events such as festivals, concerts, dance performances or plays in your target language. Go. Have fun. Soak it all in. Experience authentic sounds, smells and tastes and make these part of your language experience. Find out what’s going on in your local community and become a part of it. This may be easier to do in urban areas than in smaller towns, but it may be worth a trip into town, too. (Skill areas: Reading, writing, speaking and listening.)

We know that the more time we invest in learning, the more successful we’ll be over the long run. This summer, make your language learning experience your own. Have fun with it!

Related posts

How Long Does it Take to Learn a New Language?

Formal, Non-formal and Informal Learning: What Are the Differences?

The many faces of non-formal learning

Formal, non-formal and informal learning: The case of literacy and language learning in Canada

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Share this post: 7 Ways to Maintain or Improve Your Foreign Language Skills Every Day During the Summer http://wp.me/pNAh3-K7

Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


New Trends in Education: Formal, Non-formal and Informal Learning – Implications for Evaluation and Assessment

June 9, 2011

Thanks to the Ontario Literacy Coalition (OLC) for inviting me to be part of their webinar series. In case you missed the program this week on “New Trends in Education: Formal, Non-formal and Informal Learning: Implications for Evaluation and Assessment” you can watch the recording here:

Here’s the link to program, too: http://youtu.be/6iH_ikNmn9I

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Share this post: New Trends in Education: Formal, Non-formal and Informal Learning – Implications for Evaluation and Assessment http://wp.me/pNAh3-JD

Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


Free webinar – New Trends in Education: Formal, Non-formal and Informal Learning – Implications for Evaluation and Assessment

May 27, 2011

** This event has passed. Check out the recording of this program here: http://youtu.be/6iH_ikNmn9I **

The Ontario Literacy Coalition has a series of professional development webinars for literacy professionals. I met these folks last year when I spoke at their Spotlight on Learning Conference. I was delighted when they invited me back this year to present via webinar. I gave them a few different programs to choose from and they put the topics out for a vote to their stakeholders. The topic that got the most votes was “New Trends in Education: Formal, Non-formal and Informal Learning – Implications for Evaluation and Assessment”.

This is a free event for educators and literacy professionals. But there’s one catch. They have a limited number of seats, so if you’re interested, you’ll need to reserve your spot. Their May webinar was filled to capacity. Join us:

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

1:00 – 2:00 p.m. EDT (There is a link to show that in your time zone here).

Feel free to share this post with other literacy advocates. This is an open event. Would love to have you come and be part of the conversation!

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Share this post: Free webinar – New Trends in Education: Formal, Non-formal and Informal Learning – Implications for Evaluation and Assessment http://wp.me/pNAh3-Gj

Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


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