By Camalita Naicker
Imagine trying to write your assignments and participate in tuts in a language you barely know. Rhodes University has a large number of second-language English speakers. Some of them have done English as a first language at school and the transfer to university is easy enough for them, But there are those who did not attend schools where English is the primary language and they have a much more difficult transition.
Mkateko Mdlhuli, who attended Peninqhotsa High School, said: “If I had been taught English properly I would not need to translate everything lecturers say into isiXhosa before I understand it.”
“The best way to prepare such a student is to help him overcome the language that will otherwise become his oppressor,” says Roy Naicker, the Principal of Nonhlevu Secondary, a
rural school in Groutville, KwaZulu- Natal. However, he stresses the importance of the mother tongue. English should not completely displace the role of the mother tongue in the home or the classroom. Luzuko Buku went to Mzokhanyo High and says that he still feels disadvantaged everyday by the way English was taught to him at school. “I have real difficulty in debating my opinion in tutorials because when the conversation becomes heated I cannot find the English vocabulary,” he said.
State policy on mother tongue education needs to ensure that there are mother tongue tertiary institutions that can compete with established English and Afrikaans language universities. The only other solution appears to be better teaching of English language skills.