Karabo Mokoena
3 minute read
30 Jan 2020
3:38 pm

Is my child speaking too much English?

Karabo Mokoena

Teaching our children indigenous languages is important for kids to form their identity.


The topic surrounding languages in South Africa (SA) has become very popular. There have been recent conversations in the parenting circles regarding the languages our children use as they grow up. The topic is based on the realization that black African children are speaking less of their home language than English.

The reality is that children are taught in English in schools, speak it amongst themselves, and then still use the language at home.

According to language expert Dr. Nobuhle Ndimande-Hlongwa, our other reality is that “the colonial and apartheid systems enforced monolingualism and a type of bilingualism which favoured English and Afrikaans, while African languages were denied space to operate in official domains.”

In post Apartheid and colonial SA should our children be speaking less English?

Language is not only a mode of communication but is closely linked to one’s identity. It forms an integral part of who we are. A Sotho girl should know Sesotho. A Venda boy should be able to give and take instructions in Venda.

So why are we okay with raising a generation of children that can’t properly pronounce their names?

There is a delicate balance between fluency in English and too much English.

According to Stats SA;

25.3% of South Africans speak Zulu with English being the second most spoken language in SA at 25.1%.

This means there are a little over 14 million South Africans that speak English in their households.

In 2018, Stats SA estimated that there are 4.52 million white South Africans in the country.

As per the stats, there are about 10 million non-white South Africans using English as their primary medium of communication.

According to Dr. Ndimande-Hlongwa “various research studies have revealed that even mother-tongue African language speaking parents and students often opt for English as a language of teaching and learning as opposed to their mother tongue”.

“I want my child to be able to compete in the real world, and being able to express themselves eloquently in English is pivotal”, one father expressed. He does, however, acknowledge that he feels some sense of disappointment when his children fail to understand simple instructions in their mother tongue.

In 2019, the United Nations proclaimed the year as the International Year of Indigenous Languages. This alone proves how important indigenous language is when trying to preserve our identity, history, and culture.

If we want the legacy of who we are to continue, we need to continue teaching our children, firstly, how to pronounce the names properly. We then assist them as much as possible to learn English, but still making sure that they are fluent in their mother tongue.

Yes, they won’t need to use their mother tongue in the corporate world, but they need to know who they are.

So, if Chepo also can’t say Tshepo, and if you speak Setswana when gossiping about him, then it really is time to re-evaluate how you are sending him out into the world.

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