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Here is the transcript for the latest episode of the Breeze Lingo podcast English is a Breeze!
Hi everyone and welcome to another episode of the English is a Breeze podcast. I´m Sam and I´m excited to be here talking to you again today.
In today´s episode, our special guest is one of the wonderful teachers from the Breeze Lingo platform, Pearl from South Africa, and she is going to talk to us about the wonderful world of languages in her beautiful country where they have 12 official languages! You think only learning English is hard? Listen to what she has to say and you might change your mind!
Sam: Hi Pearl, how are you today?
Pearl: I´m good, and yourself?
Sam: I´m fine thank you and thank you very much for joining us today.
Pearl, can you just tell us about the languages, the native languages that you have in South Africa?
Pearl: OK, so, here in South Africa we have 11 official languages. I remember in one year they wanted to add the sign language into the twelfth official language in the languages in South Africa, so, we can just say we have 12 languages which is plus the sign language. So, here in South Africa, it´s quite different than in other countries because we have, as I said, we have 11 languages, we have different provinces and each province has its own language. English is our medium language. When we meet at times, for example, one year I went to work in another province, so, when I got to that province, I couldn’t greet in their language, I couldn’t say “thank you” in their language, so all those basic things in their language I couldn’t really say it, so I had to learn the basic language, I had to learn how to say “hello”, I had to learn, it was just like I was outside my country, whereas I was in South Africa, but it’s a different, different, different language.
Sam: Wow, and are all the languages really different to each other? Or, for example, in the province next to your province, are the languages similar?
Pearl: OK, you find other languages quite similar to each other, and for example, in my province we speak isiZulu and you find in the Eastern Cape they speak isiXhosa. Well, you can find that it’s not really much different. I can understand a Xhosa person, I can understand exactly what they are saying, and I can reply in my own language, without having problems, without having any communication variants, but if I have to go to the very core of the Xhosa people, where they live in their province, I think it would be quite difficult for me because they speak you now the deep Xhosa language, as opposed to if they come here its quite easy because I think they can adapt to our language as well and I think its typical for them to use those simple terms as opposed to when you go deep into their province and then obviously they use their words which are quite difficult, so you can find that other provinces are quite similar, our language, some languages are quite similar to each other.
Sam: Yeah, that´s really interesting because I’m thinking for example in England, well, in the United Kingdom, there are different dialects, definitely and obviously in different parts of the country, between Scotland Wales, England and Northern Ireland there are some different languages as well, but generally it’s very easy to understand everyone, by speaking the same language. So, it’s really fascinating the diversity of languages there are in South Africa. And, do children learn their native, well, their province language and other languages?
Pearl: OK, for example, that´s actually quite an interesting question Samantha, because you go to different schools. As you know, in South Africa it’s so different to Spain. Here in South Africa, it’s mainly, it’s all about affordability, if you can afford to go to that school then of course, you´re going to send your child to that specific school. So, for example, where I went to, English was the first language. So that was the first language in the school. We had isiZulu, we had Afrikaans, which is another South African language, so you could choose to learn isiZulu or Afrikaans, but it was compulsory to learn English. Every school learns English. The difference is, if you go to a multiracial school where you find English-speaking people and people who speak any other African language, they meet together in that school but the rule in that specific school is that English is our main language, so we have other languages as a second language.
Sam: So, people in South Africa learn at least 2 languages would you say? So, most people speak some English or mainly English but at least learn one other language when they are at school.
Pearl: Exactly, which is quite difficult. I think English is quite simple. You know our language is quite difficult when you learn. For example, we have idioms as well in our own language, we have phrases in our own language, we have proverbs, we have all those sorts of things, and its quite difficult at times and when you speak our language, as opposed to writing it, I think speaking is quite simple, but when you have to write it down, they have a lot of rules in our main language, which actually is hard because when I went to university, it’s funny because in my second year I had to choose, I had to do, it was compulsory for me to do a language, I had to do both English and isiZulu, so for me it was very difficult. English was just, you know, you were just flowing, but when it came to my native language, a language that I speak at home every single day with my family members, it was quite difficult for me to write it down, even other stuff I couldn´t understand. I always had to call my Mum “what does this mean?” and she had to tell me what it meant! Because it’s very, very difficult, for example just one example, I know it won’t make sense, but when you speak of spoon and you speak of your fork, you know it’s cutlery, right? But in my language, when you say a spoon, yeah you can say “spoon”, but we have another complex word for it, where maybe our great grandfathers and great grandmothers were using it. So, when you hear it or when you go to a dictionary, an isiZulu dictionary, you see that and you are like “OK, this is hard!”. So, there is a specific word for it in our language, but as you know, as you grow things evolve, our language is evolving as well, but when you go to school, the teachers require you to follow the rules, there are no exceptions, just because times have changed, it doesn’t mean the rules have changed as well.
Sam: The possibility that people speak at least two languages let’s say, do you think that creates a kind of a more open-minded culture like people are more open-minded about communicating with each other? Because normally when we talk about learning languages, we talk about that don´t we? How speaking another language does open up a lot of opportunities for communicating with people so, in South Africa, do you think that´s the case?
Pearl: Exactly, yeah, it is because, there´s an advert that I saw, a friend of mine posted on WhatsApp, they need a Radio Presenter that speaks English or Xitsonga or Tshivenda, something like that. They need someone who can speak mainly 1 of those three languages, so imagine if you are a Zulu person and you can´t speak English and you can´t speak the other two languages so basically, you can´t apply for that job, even if you do have the qualifications, so, I think it does open your mind as well, it just creates a lot of opportunities for someone as well. I remember when I went for my interview in that other province, the first thing that when I walked in, I sat down, I greeted the interviewers and we started communicating and they started asking questions, and then after 5 minutes, one of the interviews stopped me, and they were like, “no, you are not from here. You are from another province”. I didn’t say anything and we were all speaking in English, but it was because of my name. He just caught it by my very first name. Because my first name is Lindokuhle and my second name is Pearl. So, they caught it just by my name. Even the names are different! So, if you go to another province, you wouldn´t find my name in another province. So, he just caught me by that he was like, “oh, you are not from here, so how are you, how will you be able to cope, because the language here is quite different, how are you going to work with kids? How are you going to go about, you know, carry out your tasks, if you really don´t know the language that they speak here”. They did hire me which I am thankful and very grateful for that. I think I sold myself quite well! But they hired me and at first, I had such a tough time getting a school to work in because the kids wouldn’t have understood me, if I spoke English because I work with young kids. Some kids really don’t know how to speak English, especially in primary school. They are still learning. So, it was going to be hard for me to deliver whatever services or programs that I needed to deliver in those schools, without speaking the very same language that they speak and understand. So, I really faced a lot of challenges, trying to work, and at last, I got a school where they speak English and we found a lot of English-speaking teachers students and so forth, so I could come to that school and I could speak English, I could do my work perfectly, so, it’s kind of hard if you don’t know other languages in South Africa. So, I think it’s better that we try to learn because opportunities come in different places. You may find there is a better opportunity in another province and you need to know Afrikaans. If you don’t know Afrikaans, really, you can’t go to Cape Town and you know, work with people there because mostly they speak Afrikaans in Cape Town. So, you need to know the language.
Sam: It’s really interesting, it’s like kind of a country of countries in the end, isn’t it.
Pearl: You know, it’s exactly that!
Sam: Yeah! It’s fascinating and I guess it’s similar to what happens in Spain between Catalunya and other parts of Spain isn’t it? How maybe you learn Spanish and you think, “OK, I can speak Spanish, I can work in Spain. But then you go to Barcelona and they need you to speak Catalan and you think “oh God! I never learnt Catalan”. It’s similar, isn’t it? So, learning languages is so important to be able to move around, not only to different countries but like you say, even inside your own country. Inside South Africa, learning languages is the key isn’t it for getting job opportunities, well, I imagine not only for work, as well for meeting people, for I don’t know, different cultural things as well. Perhaps if you enjoy different films or TV programs, theatre and it’s in different languages or the radio like you said. So, knowing other languages there is the key isn’t it. It’s really, really interesting.
The last question I’d like to ask you, as you’re obviously not only a teacher of languages but you’ve had to learn different languages, as you were mentioning before, what advice would you give to people who are learning a language?
Pearl: I’d say always keep an open mind when you’re learning a language. It’s like going to the gym. You know, when you go to the gym for the first time you have a big fat belly, you know, everything is just a flabby expanse and you’re so tired and obviously the first two months you don’t see the results. So, you don’t give up immediately, you just have to keep pushing, you just have to keep pushing because I know learning a new language can be very frustrating, it can be, you know, it takes a lot of time, and I know when you want to do something, you just want to see immediate results, it’s not always the case. Some people have you know just a light head, they just learn something and they just get it straight away. And for some people, it’s not really that simple, you know, it takes a lot of time, it takes effort, you know, it takes consistency as well. I think when someone is learning a new language consistency is very key. Even in your free time. If you are learning a new language, even in your free time, try to do something, try to create space or time for you to learn a new word. I know sometimes with our students at Breeze Lingo, they have one hour a week. But I think, if you have one hour a week and maybe every day you have an app for 10 minutes or 20 minutes whenever you have time, try to do something. Try to learn in that language. Try to maybe open a video, try to listen to it, maybe try to get books, you know. So, try to focus, as I said, consistency. Try to do something more, try to be there, show up, be consistent, have patience. It takes time, I know but, with hard work and you know, commitment, you’ll get there. It’s not simple, but it’s doable.
Sam: I couldn’t have said it better myself! I completely agree with you. Being consistent and just doing a little bit of something every day is the key, and not to give up! It’s a message we are always repeating at Breeze Lingo, I think. Don’t give up! It’s not easy, like you say, but its doable absolutely. Well, Pearl, thank you so much for talking to us today. It’s been fascinating learning about learning languages in South Africa. I hope people listening now think that learning English isn’t so bad compared to learning one of the local South African languages! I guess English is relatively easy!
Pearl: Thank you, Sam.,
Thank you for listening to today´s episode and I’d like to finish with a quote from one of the most well-known South Africans of all time, Nelson Mandela. He said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to a man in his own language, that goes to his heart” and I couldn’t agree more.
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