Trilingual terminology lists contribute to a welcoming culture

It is extremely satisfying when students say they understand the content of prescribed books thanks to a terminology list in their mother tongue, says Ms Anita Jonker, co-ordinator of the First-year Academy in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.

Anita Jonker

Anita Jonker

Thanks to her initiative, close on 1 000 political terms are now available in English, Afrikaans and isiXhosa.

“While I was presenting an introductory module on Political Science to students in the extended degree programme, I realised that they understood the work much better if the technical terms were translated into their mother tongue,” says Jonker. “These students often arrive at the university with academic backlogs.”

The seed was planted and she applied for FIRLT funding to have the terminology lists of two of the prescribed books in the Department of Political Science (Heywood, Andrew, 2007. Politics and MacGowan, Cornelissen and Nel,2007. Power, Wealth and Global Equity) translated into Afrikaans and isiXhosa by professional translators, as well as edited. The result is 488 new translations of the English Heywood terminology list and 496 new translations of the English McGowan et al. terminology list.

“The terminology lists help students to enjoy the course more, and this increases participation in the lecture hall,” says Jonker. “When they understand the technical concepts better, their self-confidence grows.”

Just how much the terminology lists help the students is reflected in the reactions of two students.

“One of the Afrikaans-speaking students said everything suddenly makes sense, while an isiXhosa speaker said that although he had received his entire school education in English, the translations into his mother tongue made it possible to understand the concepts in the textbook even better,” says Jonker.

Research is currently being done on the use of the two trilingual terminology lists as instruments to determine whether they can have an influence on the academic success of EDP students with Political Science as a major.

Besides for the potential academic value, and the investment in Afrikaans and isiXhosa as academic languages, multilingualism also contributes to the creation of a welcoming culture. “When an academic institution makes provision for students in their mother tongue, it helps the students feel at home sooner.”

“Some of our students come from remote rural areas with considerable academic backlogs. Some of them are first-generation students and they are already experiencing the university environment as alienating. When they are then also confronted with a unilingual subject language, it only worsens their sense of alienation and makes their academic adjustment much more difficult.”

“The Western Cape Province has three official languages. We can at least try to make provision for students from those three language groups, although we are also enriched by other language groups from our own country and from overseas.”

In the long run, multilingualism increases the employability of graduates. “I would like, at the start of every academic year, to give every first-year student a language course and sound recording in the two languages that are not their mother tongue so that they could acquire basic listening and speaking skills in their own time to assist their social interaction with student and lecturers who do not speak their mother tongue. In this way they would have improved their employability when they leave the campus after three or four years, even if they have only acquired listening skills in one of these two languages that are not their mother tongue.”

The University’s Language Centre has already developed trilingual terminology lists in the following subjects: Law, Economics, Social Work, Sociology and Psychology. These are available to both staff and students at very affordable prices.

A new development in trilingual academic terminology lists is that the latest prescribed book for first-year Psychology students was published in 2011 with an Afrikaans translation of the textbook’s English terminology list, which can be downloaded from the book’s website. The Xhosa translation is currently being undertaken. Furthermore, funds have been granted for the development of a trilingual terminology list for Visual Arts.

“I hope that these multilingualism projects will contribute to mutual appreciation and sensitivity in the diverse university community, and that they can contribute to a broader definition of first-year success beyond merely through-flow rates.”