FHS Language Festival

The Language Seminar

Language seminar – self-reflection and solution-orientated engagement


Natashia Muna, coordinator of the Faculty’s Writing Lab, coordinated the final event of the Language festival, a seminar aimed at critically engaging on language issues in the Faculty.

“The Language Seminar provided a more serious opportunity to engage with some of the language issues pertinent to the Health Sciences, with a focus on critical self-reflection and solution-orientated thinking.” she explains.

The seminar, which was attended by Deputy Dean Professor Perez as well as several Heads of Departments, kicked off with a thought-provoking proposal presentation by isiXhosa lecturer, Thabisa Xhalisa, and was followed by a lively panel discussion. The panel consisted of Prof. Raj Mesthrie, Dr Busayo Ige, Dr Bongi Bangeni, Thabisa Xhalisa, PhD student Emmanuel Nwosu and undergraduate students Zahraa Mohamed and Stephnie Roche, with Prof Harsha Kathard acting as chair.

“One of the clear messages from the debate was that for too long tertiary education has been prioritising English over other languages,” says Natashia. This prioritisation has filtered through to parents, who are now encouraging their children to focus on English ahead of African languages, and schools, many of which make subject selection with African languages tricky for scholars wanting to pursue the sciences.

Universities need to send a clear message to schools that multilingualism is valued, and the suggestion was raised from the audience that in the future an African language could be stipulated as an entrance requirement for medicine. If first year students already had basic isiXhosa in place, as most do for Afrikaans, then the additional tuition at the tertiary level could meaningfully extend student’s language proficiency beyond basic communication.

“Another strong theme was that our focus should not be exclusively on what students need to do, but on staff as well,” explains Natashia. Multilingualism needs to break out of the confines of language lectures and become part of the disciplinary discourse. However, while many staff members have done the Basic Communication in isiXhosa courses offered by the university, this is clearly not sufficient to enable disciplinary proficiency and further provision should be offered. In time, the dual approach of both staff and students could lead not only to better facilitation, teaching and transformation, but also to providing the opportunity for African languages to develop within an academic setting – something for which not much affordance has been made, particularly within the sciences.

“This seminar appropriately raised several of the issues currently under consideration and the Faculty was urged to respond to the Universities Language Policy and its strategic implementation with Health Sciences,” says, Natashia.