Many people ask me for advice on how their children can learn Xhosa and can I teach them or provide materials. They want to pay for private lessons or they want me to teach at a school, or recommend a teacher. All of those are fine options, but not necessary or even effective in the long run.
The reality is that giving your children language lessons doesn’t really matter that much. Yhoooo, controversial statement! Read on!
I know many people, and Im talking about non-Xhosa people, who have learnt Xhosa as their first language when children or did it for AGES at school, but now can’t speak much at all.
So you mean learning or speaking as a child actually doesn’t seem to matter much as an adult?
There are a number of reasons why people lose a language but the main issue stems down to separation and disconnection.
At some point they were disconnected from the people and the language and no longer spoke it.
This is the whole point. Languages are complex codes that take a lot of our brain computer’s RAM, but our brain’s are wired to learn them, and CAN learn them easily….
When they HAVE to!
WHEN they really NEED them often.
IF it is a priority.
Otherwise why learn and use a complex code if you can survive and prosper using a complex code you already know? Our brains are busy and lazy, and smart after all.
Black peoples have been expected, forced (often at threat of death) and pressured into learning European languages for a long time now. This has bred a complacency and entitlement in especially (self-identifying as) white people.
How is Xhosa and other vernac languages perceived as not necessary, despite them being the most spoken languages in South Africa, despite our history and the magnanimity of so many black people towards us whities?
Because through Apartheid and it’s repercussions, we were geographically, linguistically, culturally, economically and ideologically separated. We are all still suffering the pains of this past, despite Aparthate being technically dead and buried, and very few of us wanting to believe otherwise.
As long as we assume the privilege and arrogance of not respecting indigenous peoples and their languages, whilst expecting and ridiculing black people’s efforts to speak ours, Aparthate will remain alive and kicking in all of our hearts, and generations to come.
So what do kids need if not “lessons”?
It’s a long-game strategy that you need to begin NOW.
Of course exposure to the language when young is important. Any people, songs, movies, theatre they can watch when young will introduce their young brains to this other code and plant a seed of awareness at least, and hopefully of importance as they become aware how many people they share land with speak that language.
But most importantly as they grow they need to not be funnelled into their little class and racially tinged physical spaces and mindsets that have been inherited historically. Yes a bit of discomfort can go a long way for our souls too. More on this in stories to come. 🙂
Children and adults alike will learn languages quickly, as mentioned, when they need to, when it is a priority. The time languages are consistently a priority is when one is immersed in that language. In our country of such diversity, it means spending a lot of time at a language-specific school, or in a township or rural village community. Either studying in such a school, or volunteering or getting involved in community projects and businesses. There is so much to learn in such spaces and the language and people skills developed become indispensable for the rest of one’s life.
IMAGINE if instead of ‘national service’, our children spent either an exchange year in an “other” community, or a gap year volunteering or working in a community, immersed in another language to one they know. We need this as a national project, and we needed it from 1994, or else 2022.
What children need are role-models.
I tried as QAWO (Quite a White Ou) and will continue to try further making videos, performing, talking at schools, as I have done these last 15 years, plus other ideas long dreamed and not yet hatched.
But the number 1 role model for children is their parents AND TEACHERS! They will follow our examples, and learn from what we prioritise, in most things.
So when adults ask me how they can get their children learning Xhosa or any vernac, I say to them: Expose them to the language, immerse them in it, and most importantly, be a part of the process, expose and immerse yourself, learn and speak yourself, and demonstrate to them that you walk your talk, and that you have valid reasons for valuing this language.
Ultimately life can be a path fuelled by fear or by love, to some extent we can develop awareness of these two forces in our life, and keep choosing one or the other, until the one we want becomes natural and dominant, regardless of what happens. That is practical faith.
WARNING: Rant Rating 8.5/10
So parents/teachers/adults, stop expecting your children to do the nation building and reconciliation work for them. It’s time for us to lead by example. We have inherited, or milked this country’s people and resources or both, leaving absolute devastation in our wake, and often complaining along the way, about the taxes, the corruption, the incompetence, the crime, but how dare anyone mention the unspeakable traumas that were enacted upon the people of this country, many of whom are still alive and now trying to lead the country as a safe and prosperous place for all, something far from perfected, but that a white government failed to do completely, nor even tried to do otherwise.
Learning language in South Africa is part of the parcel of reconciliation, of combatting racism (and the inherent cultural and linguistic superiority and entitlement it contains) and it is crucial for developing long lasting unity and prosperity. There is no way around that. You cannot claim to be helping people, or respectful of people while you reinFORCE your culture, rank and system upon them by using the languages of systemic oppression without an effort to speak their language too. To not do so is arrogant, insensitive and disrespectful. Once aware of this, it becomes an imperative to keep learning, (and teaching too), if that is what is needed!
If we want to go far, then we must go together. At UBuntu Bridge, we are striving with our limited resources to create a movement, a community of learners.
As founder and lead learner, I pledge to keep learning, teaching, creating, and doing what I can to inspire and motivate, and to make content accessible.
Yizani nifunde nathi! – Come learn with us!
Masifunde kunye! – Let’s learn together
Craig Makhosi – eKapa, Ranting from 2003 – 2021