NWU puts language policy into action

Belinda Bantham -- Thu, 12/05/2019 - 11:31

NWU puts language policy into action

The North-West University (NWU) is on a mission to be a university where everybody will feel welcome in their languages, and can use their own language to teach, learn and interact freely.

It aims to be an institution where students will be able to complete their studies while also using their mother tongue, for example Setswana, together with any of the various languages of learning and teaching that are available at the NWU.

In this regard, 2020 promises to be an important year for the university in making this dream a reality. It will be the start of major work in implementing the university’s language policy. The policy has already passed the drawing-board stage and customised language plans will now be rolled out.

These plans are customised for teaching-learning, student life, administration and the linguistic landscape of the NWU.

According to Johan Blaauw, director of the Language Directorate, thus far each of the NWU’s eight faculties has developed its own language plan to give effect to the language policy in its unique environment, as has the student-life environment.

He says Corporate Communication and Marketing is putting a plan into effect to make the landscape of the NWU on the university’s signage a visibly multilingual one.

The administrative environment is still refining its draft language plan and is gathering more data about its various activities for this purpose.

“It is important to note that the language plans are living documents that will be developed and refined during implementation.” He says it is part of an ongoing process.

Johan also says the process is all about knowing what the NWU wants to achieve. “We know what we want in terms of multilingualism. For instance, we want to develop, Setswana and Sesotho to become fully fledged academic languages. How exactly we are going to get there, is not cast in stone. What we do know for certain is that multilingual pedagogies (teaching approaches) will play a very important role.”

Multilingual teaching approaches

To help attain this, the Faculty of Education compiled a short-learning programme focusing on multilingual pedagogies in the classroom.

This course will show lecturers how to harness the diverse language repertoires that lecturers and students bring to the classroom to achieve the best possible teaching and learning experience for all. 

It comprises five two-day sessions per year, held across the NWU. The deans have already identified 30 staff members from within the faculties to attend these sessions, which, according to plans, will start in January 2020.

Dr Maryna Reyneke, who is leading the course development team, says the 30 pioneers attending the course will include three lecturers from each of the eight faculties (one faculty representative from each campus) plus two staff members from the Unit for Open and Distance Learning (UODL), and four from the Language Directorate, who will help facilitate the implementation of the multilingual pedagogies.

The idea, says Maryna, is that the lecturers will take their newly gained knowledge back to their faculties to train and inspire their colleagues.

“We want our lecturers and students to change the way they think about language usage in the classroom. We want them to help each other to use the different languages brought to the classroom in a functional and relaxed way.”

The multilingual pedagogies will at first be implemented only in first-year programmes identified as the flagship programmes in a faculty.

Short language acquisition courses

The Faculty of Humanities will also offer short language acquisition courses to help staff develop multilingual skills. The aim of this is to equip staff with basic knowledge of an additional language. This will give life not only to the language plans but also to the language policy.

The deans are going to nominate staff from their faculties to attend the courses and will also identify the languages that are best suited for their specific learning environments.

The Afrikaans and Setswana courses will be rolled out across the campuses early in 2020, followed by the English and Sesotho courses.

Prof Robert Balfour, the deputy vice-chancellor for teaching and learning, says the idea is to initially encourage basic interpersonal communication skills in several languages in the academic and support environments, and to extend this over the next few years to more advanced levels.

“Lecturers should eventually be able to explain academic concepts to their students in another language,” he says.

It is envisaged that the beginner’s courses will be launched in 2020. These entry-level courses will be repeated in 2021, while intermediate and advanced courses will be rolled out in 2021 and 2022 respectively.