Report on language think tanks held from 2 5 October 2000
A. Current problems
The problems identified during the discussions held on 2 and 3 October 2000 are summarised as follows:
An urgent need exists for a language policy to provide a legal framework. The lack of a language policy contributes to English becoming the default language in most cases. Once implemented, the language policy would promote the use of other languages. The necessary political will or motivation must, however, exist to implement multilingualism. The question remains whether such a language policy would be able to satisfy all stakeholders.
2. Cost and time factors
The cost implications for national companies to use all eleven official languages are an obstacle. It would be impractical and time consuming to conduct all business in the 11 official languages. This would cause escalation in the communication costs of companies and would slow down the business process. Eventually one has to choose between economics and culture. Companies do, however, often hide behind cost factors as an excuse not to implement multilingualism, and often use practicality and affordability as a convenient explanation for the dominance of English. It must be questioned whether the argument that multilingualism is not cost effective has ever been put to the test.
3. Service Delivery
Services delivered to the public are not available in the clients first language. Effective strategies for service delivery such as contracts being made available in more than one language have not been acknowledged or recognised. The language in which a service is delivered would be determined by the nature of the particular community, e.g. rural and urban. It has to be borne in mind that the population changes all the time due to migration from other provinces, leading to the use of a non-common language. One must also bear in mind that language goes hand in hand with culture, a fact that cannot be ignored in determining language needs. A point in case would be the language used in advertising, which is the second language of most people in the province.
Employees do not posses sufficient language skills. This is due to various factors, including education only being available in one language, and illiteracy. Most individuals have to perform their daily tasks in their second language, which impedes innovation and creativity. In this regard, the lack of Xhosa skills is an urgent problem. Technical terminology is not equally developed in all languages, which is an obstacle in technical communication. This is aggravated by the fact that training manuals are mostly technical and, due to the above-mentioned factors, only in English.
Globalisation increasingly impacts on the language used in the private sector. Global and e-commerce players increasingly feel that they have to interact in English. An example is the fact that the Internet is only in English.
B. Ideal scenario
1. Policy and budget
1. Policy and budget
There is a language policy that satisfies everybodys needs, aspirations and requirements. Sufficient budgetary provision is made for language services. Language-related problems are solved effectively. Xhosa is promoted to an equal status. Languages are promoted within a cultural context. At least two of the three languages are recognised within a community. An efficient ombudsman has been appointed. Recognition is given to language distribution, especially when residents of a certain area are mostly speakers of one language, e.g. Bellville, which is 80% Afrikaans-speaking.
2. Language attitudes
Clients are served in the language of their choice. This implies a respect for the language preference of the individual. Multilingualism is used as the bottom line for profitability by means of creative ability and the effective use of the market place. Everyone in a company attaches the same importance to multilingualism. Everybody has the desire to be multilingual. Everybody is able to speak the three official languages. In this way people understand one another. Business has realised that e-commerce can be conducted in various languages. Or, English can be used as the common language, which will be economically viable and more practical.
3. Skills and development
Experts from each language group have been recruited to work in the language field. High level terminology has been developed in all three official languages of the Western Cape. All legal and technical documents are available in three official languages. Schools prepare children for trilingualism, while at the same time engendering respect, tolerance and appreciation for the languages of others.
C. Creative options to explore
Creative options suggested by the participants in order to reach the ideal situation can be divided into the following categories:
The Language Committee should assist companies to develop a language policy. Such a language policy should be formulated as part of a companys communication strategy. It would equip the company to handle language-related inquiries. Businesses could do a language audit of clients in each region. An ombudsman could be appointed to monitor the use of the three official languages in the Western Cape.
Businesses could enhance the language skills of their employees by offering easy access to language training for employees. Basic low level workshops, e.g. greetings could be offered to frontline employees. Alternatively, a central language bureau could be established to deal with inquiries. This could be done by making use of IT, or a language specialist could be appointed for example in the communications departments of each business. The appointment of appropriate language trainers for training sessions could ensure improved communications while, at the same time, decreasing the costs of translating training manuals.
3. Interpreting and translating
Interpreters could be made available to facilitate communication during meetings. The availability of interpreters should receive attention through intensive training offered to aspirant interpreters. A translation service per industry should be established. In-house journals in the Western Cape should be published in the three official languages.
4. Government and education
Tax incentives should be offered to businesses actively promoting multilingualism. Multilingualism should be a prerequisite for tender invitations and applications. Schools should prepare the new generation for a multilingual environment. Educators should be re-educated in 3 languages. These steps would increase an awareness of multilingualism.
5. Language and cultural awareness
The film and television industries could produce more indigenous language productions in order to create an awareness, give recognition to South African cultures and prevent the spread of Americanisation. A lobbying body should be established for Xhosa. This goes hand in hand with developing a culture of language lobbyists that would mobilise dissatisfied people and convince commerce to listen.
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