Report on language think tanks held from 2 - 5 October 2000
Public Sector: Provincial and local governments
1. Current problems
1.1 Reluctance regarding multilingualism
The discussions on the current situation and problems experienced in the provincial and local governments revealed that the unwillingness to commit to multilingualism is a big problem. The provisions regarding language rights in the Constitution and in the Western Cape Provincial Languages Act, which provides guidelines for the equal status of the three official languages of the Western Cape and the promotion of the previously marginalised languages, are not implemented everywhere. At some local governments the clerks can only speak one language.
1.2 Globalisation and the use of English
Practical communication and limited budgets lead to the hegenomy of English as the language of communication. Globalisation and the limited knowledge of Xhosa in the civil service mean that English is used even though the majority of the people are not English speaking. According to delegates some officials prefer to use English due to the South Africas history or personal preferences. This even happens in cases where officials can speak Afrikaans, but rather prefer to communicate in English. Local government delegates indicated that, on the one hand, there exists a prejudice against the use of Afrikaans as it is regarded by some as the language of the oppressor, and on the other hand, English is regarded as a foreign language. There is resistance to the acquisition of a third language.
1.3 Insufficient interpreters and translators
It became clear that there is a shortage of officials who can speak all three languages and there are not sufficient interpreting and translating services. Many delegates expressed the hope that these shortcomings would be addressed, as financial constraints do not allow for the adequate use of translators and interpreters. Opportunities do not exist for training in these fields. Local government not only experiences a lack of translation services, but also finds that Xhosa translators are too expensive. Xhosa translators are often regionally bound and translate into a specific dialect. The lack of adequate translation services means that time is lost and problems are experienced in certain situations, e.g. press releases.
1.4 Inadequate community involvement in matters relating to language
There is inadequate community involvement in matters relating to language service delivery. Xhosa speakers do not have the confidence to use their own language and it is assumed that they can communicate in English.
1.5 The lack of a properly implemented language policy leads to situations where one, or sometimes two, languages are used.
1.6 Sign language
Provision is not made for Sign Language.
2. Ideal situation
2.1 Multilingual officials
Officials, including those in senior and influential posts, are multilingual and can understand and use the three official languages of the Western Cape. The residents and clients have the choice to communicate and be assisted in any of the three official languages.
2.2 Adequate funds for resources and translations
All departments have translators who can translate into all three languages if required. There are adequate resources and language facilities available. This includes the availability of funds, dictionaries and subject glossaries as well as interpreting facilities and a language information centre.
2.3 Official recognition of the official languages of the Western Cape and the language policy
A language policy, recognising multilingualism and respecting previously marginalised languages such as Khoe and San languages, is implemented. Official recognition is given to sign language at all levels and hearing-impaired people have access to tertiary education. There is tolerance for the languages of others and a respect for cultural diversity.
2.4 Trilingualism in education and optimal use of technology
Education and training take place in all three the official languages of the Western Cape, especially at preprimary level. Learners are compelled to learn three languages. Technology is exploited optimally.
2.5 One international language
In the ideal world one lingua franca, such as English, is a solution.
3. Creative possibilities to investigate
Strong emphasis is placed on the training and retraining of human resources as well as training facilities for translators and interpreters. This includes a language laboratory, compulsory language workshops and training in the three official languages of the Western Cape, especially during the early stages of education such as preprimary school. Several delegates proposed training of interpreters and translators as a solution to many language-related problems. A good market must be developed for these specialised areas. Language lessons on TV and through the radio service were proposed as possible ways of promoting multilingualism. Multilingual VIPs and rolemodels must be used to change peoples perceptions and to increase an awareness of multilingualism.
Several proposals were made regarding financial solutions, ranging from reprioritising limited resources and a focussed budget for the market, to tax rebates for persons who pass language tests in languages other than their mother tongue. Budgets must provide for freelance translators and interpreters and the acquisition of the latest electronic and technical language aids. The advertising sector could serve as an example of the practical usage of language. It is recommended that a percentage of an organisations budget e.g. 0,01% should be appropriated to language planning.
3.3 Language policy
The necessity of developing and implementing a language policy is emphasised. This includes the expansion of the language service component. It is proposed that each department should employ three language practitioners and should have access to interpreters and interpreting facilities. (See Discussion document Draft Language Policy for the Western Cape August 2000 obtainable from the Western Cape Language Service.)
3.4 The proposal was made at local government level that the language centres should be connected to all municipal service centres by means of a video.
3.5 Policy of trilingualism in education
Xhosa speaking delegates emphasised the need for the education department to implement a trilingual language policy in schools in the Western Cape.
3.6 Sign language
It was proposed that sign language must be accepted as an official language and that all curricula should offer sign language as a subject choice.
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