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Multilingualism – what does it mean, and how can we achieve it?

Products to facilitate second language acquisition

I attended a most fascinating talk on Multilingualism last night – thank you Bellavista SHARE for the evening.  It was given by the Esteemed Professor Heila Jordaan, who is very worth listening to if you ever get a chance.  I will share a few of the salient points.

Living in South Africa, Multilingualism is part of our fabric (Multilingualism is defined as the ability to communicate in more than one language).  It is part of who we are to a greater or lesser degree. Many of us have a smattering of a few of the 11 South African official languages, but what does it mean to be truly multilingual?  And how can we achieve this?

The goal for multilingualism is more than being able to communicate orally in the second language.  To be truly multilingual we need to be able to read, write, think and learn in a second language

Being multilingual has both educational and cognitive advantages.  Learning another language enriches our brains, and there are other benefits in terms of the executive function of our frontal lobes.  Socially, living in South Africa, being multilingual gives children a huge advantage in terms of identity, and ability to integrate in society.

Given that the majority of the South African education is given in English, most of our children are forced into being Multilingual whether they are motivated to or not.

Second Language acquisition is not a fast process.  It takes time, and there is a process that needs to be followed.  Learners need the time and space to go through the stages of learning the second language.  The factors that affect Second Language Acquisition are:

  • The QUALITY of the language instruction – this is the key cornerstone to learning a language
  • The quantity of time spent on the language
  • The motivation of the pupil
  • The personality of the pupil
  • Language learning aptitude
  • And the level of development of the first language.

It was the last point that really resonated with me.  We often see cases where the mother tongue has been abandoned in favour of the new language.  The idea behind this is to assist the child with acquiring the new language.  But interestingly, research point to the fact that this approach leads to a detriment of both languages.

The relationship between the first language and the second language is critical.  There is a Threshold Theory which I would encourage you to look into if you are interested, but the gist is – the effects of multilingualism are positive when BOTH languages are developed and maintained.

The resounding point is – don’t stop the first language to help the child learn the second language!

My sister-in-law and I have developed African Voice, which is a range of two products that assist with Second Language Acquisition.  These products are used to introduce and enhance the acquisition of a second language.  The can be used, for example, to introduce a rural child to English, or introduce an urban child to Zulu.  They are also designed to enhance vocabulary development and to stimulate Critical Thinking and conversation in the second language.

African Voice products currently support English, Afrikaans, Zulu and Xhosa, but are able to support any South African language needed.

The development of the African Voice products is based on this concept of building a solid foundation of vocabulary in the second language before tackling other aspects of the language.

Conversation Station – This game is all about stimulating conversation, and building vocabulary.  Each card has a truly South African photo on the one side, and critical thinking questions in all four of the target languages on the reverse.  It also has a list of vocabulary words along the bottom.  The questions are asked initially in Mother Tongue, and the vocabulary is introduced in the Second Language.

Viva Vocab –is a specialised vocabulary building game.  It is a flash card game – with a picture of an object on the one side, and the vocabulary word on the reverse.  The vocabulary is repeated in the target languages.  Viva Vocab has over 250 of the CAPS vocabulary words.  These words are categorised, and each category is colour coded.  The phonetic transcription of the word is included with each language.  This assists the learner to begin pronouncing the word in the right way.

8 thoughts on “Multilingualism – what does it mean, and how can we achieve it?

  1. Thank you for your interesting comment on the talk you attended at Bellavista.
    How do I get hold of Professor Heila Jordaan. Multilingualism is a very real concept in our country.
    Looking forward to hearing from You
    Claudia Vosters

    1. Hi Claudia,

      Thanks for responding! I found Helia Jordaan to be both knowledgeable and approachable! I will get her contact details for you today.

      Kind regards,
      Sarah

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