15 June 2021 | Story Dr Cindé Greyling
Drummers entertained the Mokete crowds throughout the day.

During the past eight months, the University of the Free State Academy for Multilingualism has reached remarkable milestones. The Academy for Multilingualism was born from the UFS Language Policy (2016) and was approved by Senate in November 2020.


Letting languages grow

Multilingualism at the UFS entails the use of English as the primary medium of instruction, with Afrikaans, Sesotho, and isiZulu used selectively in tutorials to support the achievement of greater levels of academic literacy and understanding of the epistemology of the discipline, mostly among undergraduate students. “Accordingly, the academy’s drivers are to develop Sesotho and Isizulu as academic languages, encourage multilingualism in teaching and learning and as a social asset, and to develop English as a language of instruction,” says Dr Peet van Aardt, Custodian of the Academy for Multilingualism.


Developing Sesotho and Isizulu as academic languages

Academic word lists from seven departments are in the process of being translated, in conjunction with the Unit of Lexicography, to create glossaries. The team at South African Sign Languages will add videos to these glossaries to provide unique and inclusive content in the realm of multilingualism.

In April 2021, the academy – in collaboration with the TK Mopeli Library on the Qwaqwa Campus – hosted the launch of an English and Sesotho book on the campus. This work, Meriana ya Dimela tsa Basotho Medicinal Plants, was authored by Prof Rodney Moffett, honorary Research Fellow on the Qwaqwa Campus.


Multilingualism in teaching and learning

To assist students in overcoming the language barrier caused by English as medium of instruction, the academy is working with the Centre for Teaching and Learning’s A_STEP programme to pilot the use of translanguaging in tutor sessions. It is currently done in Law and Geography on the Bloemfontein Campus, and in Academic Literacy on the Qwaqwa Campus.

Voice-over translations of English lessons in the Faculties of Theology and Religion into Afrikaans and Sesotho paved the way for the academy to proceed with this practice in other subjects. They have been able to start with the Departments of Political Studies and Governance (Afrikaans, Sesotho, isiZulu) and Criminology (Sesotho).


English as a language of instruction

The university’s Academic Literacy and Language Development (ALLD) unit has also launched their English Academic Literacy courses for the Faculties of Law, Natural and Agricultural Sciences, Education, the Humanities, Health Sciences, and Economic and Management Sciences.

UFS staff will also be trained in teaching and translanguaging practices. Thus far, one lecturer has been nominated to track her use of translanguaging in the Academic Literacy classroom on the Qwaqwa Campus.


Multilingualism as a social asset

The fourth annual iCAN (Initiative for Creative African Narratives) was launched in April 2021. This project motivates students from all three campuses to write short stories in their mother tongue, and at the end of the year an anthology of stories will be published. In addition, some of the English stories will be injected into the English Academic Literacy courses for first-year students in order to localise the curriculum.

The Kovsies Multilingual Mokete will be hosted online this year and will include activities from the Bloemfontein, Qwaqwa, and South Campuses. The theme of this year’s festival is ‘Hearing you, hearing me’, ‘Ukungizwe, ukukuzwa’ (isiZulu), ‘Ons luister na mekaar’ (Afrikaans), and ‘Mmamele ke o mamele’ (Sesotho).


Academy for Multilingualism extending its footprint

A building that will house the academy on the Qwaqwa Campus is currently being built next to the new media lab. The building will comprise, among others, a 100-seater multipurpose lecture hall that can be converted into four smaller lecture halls. Similarly, a building for the academy is being constructed on the Bloemfontein Campus.

“The Academy for Multilingualism wants to ensure that the UFS becomes the South African leader in multilingualism, and at the impressive rate that they are delivering outputs, this goal will be reached soon,” says Dr Van Aardt.

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