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  • Leon de Stadler

The language debate at Stellenbosch: What students are telling us

A general intro: Apart from my blog series on document design, I will also comment on issues related to language planning in higher education and other sectors of the South African community. This stems from 15 years of experience, especially in the field of language planning practice. ​​At the moment the language issue at Stellenbosch University is a hot topic, given the approval of a new language policy which gives a stronger position to English as a language of learning and teaching. Given the history of the University with Afrikaans and the justified fears from within the Afrikaans language community regarding the future of the language, it is understandable that a perceived "lesser place" for Afrikaans will lead to heated debate.In this first blog, I refer to two articles written at the time when the new language policy was still under consideration.

Christel Swart and I wrote two media articles based on Christel's MA research on the attitudes of staff and students regarding the language issue at Stellenbosch University. These articles, written in Afrikaans, can be read at (Netwerk24):

Since these articles were written in Afrikaans, let me summarize some of the most important results from the research:

  1. Stellenbosch University's student population has become more diverse - only 43,5% of the 2015 intake was Afrikaans speaking.

  2. The attitudes of our Afrikaans students are changing. Of the respondents participating in the research project, 59,49% were Afrikaans, but two thirds of the students indicated that they prefer to be taught in English. 43,09% of the Afrikaans students fell in this group.

  3. However, the majority of our staff and students indicate that they value multilingualism and that they would like to develop their own individual multilingual skills. Of the students, 79% indicate that they view multilingualism as very important, and 83% indicate that the development of their own multilingualism is important or very important.

  4. Stellenbosch students understand the importance of English, but at the very same time they want to see Afrikaans retained as a language of higher education and they have a positive attitude regarding the development of the African languages as academic languages.

  5. Stellenbosch University has a challenge to find innovative ways to advance multilingualism on campus and in so doing position itself as a role-model. At the same time the University cannot afford to exclude students from teaching and learning through its language policy.

  6. It all starts with understanding that language planning is not about language (or any particular language), but about the wellbeing of people.

There is more to the practice of language planning than meets the eye. Contact me for more.


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