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19 February 2021
Five Ways UWC Empowers Mother Tongue Speakers

South Africa is a country that celebrates diversity - there’s a reason it’s called the Rainbow Nation, after all. It’s a country of eleven official languages - but the University of the Western Cape was founded to provide instruction in just one language.

Sixty years later, UWC empowers learners, researchers and educators in their mother tongues, from Afrikaans to isiZulu, and everything in between.

“The majority of South Africans are multilingual, and multilingualism is a hallmark of being African,” says Professor Tyrone Pretorius, UWC’s Rector and Vice-Chancellor. 

“As a University, we are supportive of the promotion of mother tongue education and multilingualism at UWC and beyond, despite the tough economic times and financial constraints that the Higher Education sector finds itself in.”

Here are just five ways UWC is empowering students to employ their mother tongues:

1. Learning Many Languages: Today, UWC allows students interested in languages the chance to study Afrikaans, English, isiXhosa, French and more. The University has even established a Centre for Multilingualism and Diversities Research (CMDR) that looks at transmigrational and global economies of the South, and partners with international institutions to examine the effects of multilingualism in a globalised world. The central brief of the CMDR is to embark on a project of intellectual reorientation, namely a significant rethinking of multilingualism and the development of a new discourse with which to approach interdisciplinary work in the humanities and the education sciences. The brief involves interrogating contemporary and historical African intellectual heritage through a critical review of the role of language and multilingualism in the colonial archive, and in the light of critical framings of multilingualism and diversity.
 
2. Science For All South Africans: South Africa is a country of 11 national languages – but nine of these languages don’t have an advanced scientific vocabulary. So to make science more relatable to more South Africans, the Inter-University Institute for Data-Intensive Astronomy (IDIA) and UWC’s Department of African Language Studies have joined forces for a project that takes existing astronomy resources, written in English, and translates them into other South African languages. This initiative also contributes toward encouraging learners from indigenous linguistic communities to believe that these fields are meant for them, too. And three innovative women lecturers in the Information Systems (Prof Mmaki Jantjies), Chemistry (Prof Fanelwa Ajayi) and African Language Studies (Dr Sebolelo Mokapela) departments have done the same for university Chemistry, forming a multidisciplinary research project to enhance teaching and learning to adequately prepare students for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. 
 
3. Learning Many Languages: Today, UWC allows students interested in languages the chance to study Afrikaans, English, isiXhosa, French and more. The University has even established a Centre for Multilingualism and Diversities Research (CMDR) that looks at transmigrational and global economies of the South, and partners with international institutions to examine the effects of multilingualism in a globalised world. The central brief of the CMDR is to embark on a project of intellectual reorientation, namely a significant rethinking of multilingualism and the development of a new discourse with which to approach interdisciplinary work in the humanities and the education sciences. The brief involves interrogating contemporary and historical African intellectual heritage through a critical review of the role of language and multilingualism in the colonial archive, and in the light of critical framings of multilingualism and diversity.
 
4. Mother Tongue Creatives: UWC Creates is a creative writing programme that aims to help graduates learn to work with their natural gifts and develop their own natural storytelling voices. The only creative writing programme in South Africa operating across three languages – English, Afrikaans and isiXhosa – Creates exposes learners to both prose and poetry writing, and encourages creative and social dialogue across languages, culture and ethnicities. Each language programme is presented by seasoned published authors and poets – Meg Van der Merwe and Wendy Woodward (English), Antjie Krog and Anastasia de Vries (Afrikaans), and Sindiwe Magona (isiXhosa) – who guide students to hone their talents, and express themselves in their own (often award-winning) words.

 
5. Technology To Break The Silence: DeafSA estimates that there are somewhere between 500 000 to 1-million Deaf (not hard of hearing; entirely unable to hear even with hearing aids) people who use South African Sign Language as their mother tongue, and the rest of South Africans do not understand it at all, even those that are deaf (little ‘d’) and/or hard of hearing (about 10% of the population). SignSupport is a mobile assistive app suite designed with - and for - Deaf people (big ‘D’). It helps them communicate and understand, through sign language videos for Deaf users, and text for hearing users, instructions and information to/from a healthcare professional . Pre-recorded videos in South African Sign Language (SASL), which cater to a range of medical needs, are loaded onto phones and can be accessed via the app without having to pay for data. SignSupport design is Deaf-led, and the SignSupport team has been working with numerous Deaf organisations in the Western Cape since 2001.
 

And that’s not all. Want to know more about the history of UWC? Looking for more interesting UWC facts? Why not find out about five fascinating UWC firsts, while you’re at it?