University of the Free State: UFS language policy commits to multilingualism

Language continues to be a barrier to access and success for many students at South African higher education institutions. Despite their status as official languages, indigenous languages have in the past and at present, structurally not been afforded the official space to function as academic and scientific languages.

Language policy for higher education seeks to address the challenge of the underdevelopment and underutilisation of official African languages at higher education institutions whilst simultaneously sustaining the standard and utilisation of languages that are already developed.

The University of the Free State (UFS) Centre for Teaching and Learning hosted a multilingualism virtual seminar on 20 July 2022 that aimed to broaden an understanding of utilising more than one language within lecture rooms across the university, specifically for tutoring and academics. The following speakers presented various topics at the seminar:

• Professor Leketi Makalela, Wits University ( Translanguaging, decoloniality and epistemic (in)justice in education)

• Letsela Motaung, UFS ( Translanguaging as a pedagogical practice to resuscitate indigenous languages at a South African institution)

• Dr Tolani Hlongwa, University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) ( Development of Bilingual Tutoring Training Programme: The Importance of Understanding Translanguaging)

• Monnapula Molefe, UFS ( Translanguaging pedagogies in higher education: moving from informal to formal settings)

• Dr Lehlohonolo Motake, Central University of Technology (CUT) ( Transforming learning with translanguaging in multilingual settings)

Prof Makalela stated that the foundation of sustainable growth is excellent education, but the issue is, are we any closer to what one considers quality education? “You can’t, in my opinion. How can we know if you don’t examine epistemic difficulties at this level?” he further enlightened.

Linguists believe that the practice of “translanguaging” can aid in learning, and the word has recently gained popularity in literature on bilingual and multilingual education with various universities incorporating these changes in their policies and to ensure that it’s all-inclusive as indicated by Dr Tolani Hlongwa. She further explained that languages are tools to navigate better understanding, whilst English should be used as a tool to communicate, not to measure intelligence.

What is the UFS’ role in addressing this?

The university’s language policy expresses its commitment to multilingualism, with particular emphasis on Sesotho, Afrikaans, and isiZulu. This policy ensures that language is not a barrier to equity of access, opportunity, and success in academic programmes or to access to the UFS administration.

The UFS also developed an Academy for Multilingualism. This academy hosts the Multilingual Mokete, a popular annual tradition celebrating different cultural expressions in visual art, poetry, storytelling, drama, music, and songs by different language groups and in the different languages that are dominant at the UFS (i.e. English, Afrikaans, Sesotho, isiZulu, and Sign Language.

In partnership with the University of Cape Town (UCT) and UKZN, the UFS will also conduct a Multilingualism Education Project colloquium on the new language policy framework for South African public higher education institutions on 28-29 September 2022. This language policy used in the new policy framework for public higher education institutions as well as its impacts will be examined in this virtual seminar. This is also an opportunity for diverse stakeholders to contribute suggestions on how to improve the existing status of language policy.

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