Afrikaans teaching – do you want or do you have to?

Henry

On February 21, International Mother Language Day was celebrated again. The date is starting to become more known in the Afrikaans community. Schools and various other institutions have undertaken special projects this year to pay attention to mother tongue and especially mother tongue teaching on this day.

Of course, this provides us with an opportunity to take stock of the state of our mother tongue, Afrikaans, and the challenges it currently faces.

One of these is the Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill (also known as the Bela Bill) which poses a significant threat to the continued existence of Afrikaans education. The ideological reasons for harmful legislation and regulations of this nature are well known. RNews, for example, regularly publishes opinion pieces on this.

Because language can empower, include or exclude people, it is a handy tool that can be misused for power games. Afrikaans is no exception in this regard. Afrikaans speakers are generally known as a hard-working, successful minority with a controversial past. It is enough to stick a target on the language’s proverbial back.

Arguable and deplorable as it may be, it does not help to keep us blind to this reality. The language discrimination that Afrikaans native speakers experience, as well as the threat to sustainable Afrikaans education, must be opposed by us in all possible ways within the framework of the law.

What is much more difficult is to convince members of the language community itself that a choice in favor of the mother tongue is the best. Afrikaans speakers sometimes come up with fallacies such as that English education and training is the golden gateway to success, or that it is “old-fashioned” or “unprofessional” to speak Afrikaans in a work setting.

Recently, a speaker at a function I attend states that with any action you take, you must first get clarity on whether you want to or have to do it. With the use of mother tongue in as many areas as possible, Afrikaans speakers will hopefully want to do it, because facts prove undeniably that we must do it. Reasons for this can be found in several areas. Here are some of them:

Academic

Nationally and internationally, it has been repeatedly proven that people study best in their mother tongue. Not just for two or three years at the beginning of their school career, but the longer the better. This is a key factor that helps ensure performance. Anecdotes from personal experiences with other languages ​​cannot undo this scientific evidence.

The learning of more languages ​​and the internalization of abstract concepts in subjects such as science and mathematics happen just that much better and easier when mother tongue teaching is received. This means that the learning process is accelerated, which also results in students rarely stopping studies prematurely (“kicking off”) or needing longer than the normal allotted time to complete courses.

People who study in their mother tongue usually continue their studies longer, which means they achieve higher qualifications.

The skill to think critically, formulate arguments and convey them intelligibly is promoted by mother tongue teaching. The benefits of this obviously extend far beyond just advancing a person’s career.

Economic

As already mentioned, people who study in their mother tongue usually achieve better qualifications than students who study in another language. This offers personal benefits, such as the chance to have a successful career, but also positive outcomes for the community in which the person finds himself, for example job creation and stimulation of the economy.

The fact that the person will be able to learn more languages ​​more easily and better if his academic foundation is laid in his mother tongue means that he will be more sought after as an employee as a multilingual. Local and foreign employers are increasingly looking for multilingual staff.

Socially

Studies in mother tongue promote mutual understanding and respect among people. Studies in a language other than the mother tongue can consciously or unconsciously make someone feel alienated, which in turn can result in intolerance or a feeling of inferiority. When one feels culturally protected, the opposite happens which builds harmony in institutions and between communities.

Cultural

Languages ​​are not only means of communication, but also carriers of cultural knowledge and heritage. By promoting a language’s rights and teaching future generations in it, this knowledge is preserved. By using the language in everyday teaching, informal and formal situations, contemporary heritage is added to it, which in turn is passed on to subsequent generations.

Health

Emotionally, people who have received mother tongue education from a young age develop a healthier self-image, which directly affects their mental and physical health.

Recent research further proves that people who study and work in their mother tongue enjoy a better quality of life and therefore live longer on average. With the advantage of better income, which has already been mentioned, a person has access to good quality food and medical care.

According to researchers, multilingualism, which is promoted through grounding in mother tongue education, even improves one’s cognitive functions over time.

In closing

All these facts make it very clear why you will and must choose for yourself, but also your descendants, in favor of Afrikaans mother tongue education at all levels, support institutions that offer it, and continue to create spaces where Afrikaans can be used to ensure that our beautiful language and its speakers thrive.

These are not only goals that we have to think about every year on February 21, but for which we have to plan and work every day.