Trip of the tongue to brawnier brain

Neo Bodumela

LANGUAGE has the power to cross cultural boundaries and can transcend obstacles between different cultures. But learning a new one can seem daunting. Professional help, however, can make the process fun and easy. Dr Ruby Somhlahlo-Zauka, of the applied language studies faculty at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, which offers Xhosa lessons to the public, said learning a new language is a way to exercise your brain.

“Learning a new language is a way to get in touch with other people, it can provide you with ways to talk about things that might be difficult to express in your own language. You can understand what the native speakers are saying to each other and to you,” she said.

“Learning a new language would be just like taking your brain to the gym, it’s an excellent way of flexing those brain muscles and building them up.”

Somhlahlo-Zauka said although there are no particular age groups that the courses target, she has noticed that people between the “ages 25 and 40 are interested in learning Xhosa”.

Alliance Française director Aurélien de Chappotin said people can learn French and Xhosa at the alliance, which is open to anyone wanting to learn the two languages.

“Our students can start as complete beginners or, if they have had a previous experience with French, we evaluate their level and find a class that suits them. Our youngest student is three years old and our oldest is 83. [The lessons are given over] four terms of 10 weeks but private tuition can be taken throughout the year.

“For the Xhosa lessons, South Africans would like to be able to greet colleagues and new contacts in their mother tongue. Also, there are also foreign visitors who need Xhosa for their work.

“For French, we find plenty of different reasons [for learning the language], from holiday to work purposes in Africa or elsewhere in the world, general knowledge, [to enhance] CVs and, without mentioning the eternal argument, it is a romantic language,” De Chappotin said.

There are many different reasons why learning a new language can be good, De Chappotin added.

“There are many arguments brought forward [about the benefits of learning a new language]. It could be to make a difference on your CV, to maintain and broaden your intellectual skills or for the pleasure.

“We live in a multilingual environment and we constantly need to promote it so that languages carry on existing and don’t get extinct,” he said.

Natalia Venter, of Hablas Espanol, a Spanish language tuition school, said there are “diverse” reasons for wanting to learn Spanish.

“One of the reasons why it is so popular is because it is the second most widely spoken language in the world – Mandarin being the most widely spoken. The majority of my students want to travel either to South America, the US or Spain. Unlike other countries around the world, English is not spoken in Latin countries and therefore travellers tend to have a difficult time without the basics of the language.

“I have many students and professionals wanting to work abroad, particularly in the fields of medicine and law, then there are those who just have a passion and an interest in the Spanish culture – whether it’s the music, salsa dancing or food, they are drawn to the Latin culture that’s becoming increasingly popular.

“Many want to do something for socialisation, as well as be mentally stimulated. My Spanish classes are very fun and relaxed and all my clients walk in as students and leave as amigos,” Venter said.

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