African drum

If you know me, you’ll know that I’m passionate about foreign language learning. As a teacher of English as a Foreign Language I lived abroad for about 8 years. I’ve lived in 5 countries (Thailand, China, Spain, the UK and Qatar) and travelled to many more.

I’ve always been fascinated with foreign languages, and I’m a total jack of all trades when it comes to speaking them ie master of none. I’ve learnt (and I use the term loosely) Italian, Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, isiXhosa, Thai and Afrikaans, but to say I am fluent in any of them would be a push.

Learning a foreign language is hard. It takes time, motivation and dedication. I tried learning from CDs, taking lessons, online courses and apps, but my two strongest languages (besides English and Afrikaans) are Thai and Mandarin. Why? Because I lived in Thailand and China and that’s how I learnt.

With my boys I’d like to offer them the benefits of being able to speak more than one language – and there are so many – without the hassle of trying to learn them. Does that make sense?

Short of moving them overseas, the best way I can help them learn another language is by exposure. So this is what I’m doing.

What foreign language am I teaching my children? Spanish? Mandarin? French?

No. IsiXhosa.

As far as I’m concerned, while I would love my boys to learn a European or Asian language, learning isiXhosa is even more important if we are to continue living in South Africa. For them, learning isiXhosa is the logical choice.

Did you know?

  • IsiZulu is the most commonly spoken home language in South Africa (spoken by approximately 24% of the population), followed by isiXhosa (15%), and Afrikaans (12%).
  • English is the 6th most common home language, with 8% of the population speaking it as a first language.
  • IsiZulu is also the most commonly spoken language outside the home , followed by English and isiXhosa.
  • Approximately 9% of Black South Africans speak English, while 1.2% of non-Black South Africans speak isiXhosa

In the Western Cape where we live, isiXhosa is the most widely spoken African language. In the Western Cape, more people speak isiXhosa as a first language than English. Learning isiXhosa will mean my boys will be able to communicate with a large part of the population in their own language.

In the words of the great man himself:

My boys get heaps of English at home, at school and basically anywhere else and, with an Afrikaans-speaking ouma and my semi-decent Afrikaans they’ll hear a fair bit of Afrikaans too. But there is very little opportunity for them to hear isiXhosa.

They will have isiXhosa lessons at school but that’s a long time away still. They’ll be at least six by they time they have formal lessons (and I’m not sure what grade schools offer isiXhosa lessons) and that’s late to start learning a language. It’s much easier to start learning a language when you are young.

As children, we learn languages naturally – without explicit instruction or any focus on grammar. If you listen to babies and toddlers when they are learning to talk, you will hear how they play with sounds and words. They repeat words or phrases ad nauseam. They practise making sounds with their mouths. They string words together without any thought for mistakes. They like to sing songs and read nursery rhymes.

So this is how I can help my boys learn a few languages, by making sure they are exposed to the languages and are given the freedom and the opportunity to play with the language, and to play while using the language.

Enter African Beats.

African Beats are music lessons. Nothing rocket science-y about that. But they’re conducted in isiXhosa.

As the boys are still young (10 months and 2 years), I needed to find something fun and enjoyable they could do while being exposed to the language. Which is how African Beats solved my dilemma.

There is a wonderful isiXhosa teacher who spends half an hour letting the kids bang on drums, shake bells and bang castanets while we sing songs in isiXhosa. The kids are introduced to greetings and other simple vocabulary at the same time during the class.

The kids love the instruments, as kids do, and engage with the songs just as they would in any other music class ie sometimes they sing, sometimes they do nothing, sometimes they ask for bananas/juice/Peppa Pig. The thing is, they don’t realise it but they are learning isiXhosa. (Bonus: so am I).

The knock on effect it has had in our house is that the nanny now has the confidence to sing these same songs with the boys on a daily basis so they end hearing more isiXhosa than just in the classes. I’ll be honest, some of them stick in my head so much that I end up singing them too.

You probably have a few questions about all this.

First of all, don’t be scared: It’s not an immersion class. English is still spoken but all the songs are in isiXhosa and certain phrases and instructions are given in isiXhosa too.

Your child does not need to be able to speak in order to benefit from language classes. Even babies benefit from hearing the language and will pick it up.

You don’t need to be able to speak isiXhosa. You will be in the classes but you are given a booklet of the songs to take home – and you’ll pick the words up quickly – and Thelma explains as she goes or is able to answer any questions you have.

It won’t affect your child’s language development in any way. Bilingualism and multilingualism is good for little brains (and big brains) and hearing another language won’t confuse your children or delay their English. There are no negative effects of learning another language, only massive positive benefits.

If you’re still here after this long shpiel and are interested in joining an African Beats class near you, email Nina at info@pandapost.co.za for more details.

Disclaimer: This post is not sponsored in any way nor am I receiving anything from African Beats in return for this review. I feel very strongly about my children learning a foreign language and I think these classes are a good way to start.

Photos: travel photos my own, African Beats classes courtesy of African Beats

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