Say yebo to isiZulu! The benefits of multilingualism

4 min read   •   March 16, 2023
Elmien Ackerman

The 21st of February is International Mother Language Day. Considering that over 10 million South Africans speak isiZulu as a first language, we talked to the isiZulu education specialist at Impaq, Ntando Ncube, to learn more about this official South African language. We also look at the benefits of speaking more than one language.

The benefits of being bilingual (or multilingual)

Research has shown that there are many benefits to learning a new language, including improved cognitive processes such as:

  • problem-solving,
  • decision-making, and
  • creativity.

Speaking more than one language has also been shown to boost self-esteem, positively influence conflict management, enhance cultural experiences, and deepen relationships.

Why isiZulu?

“In a South African context, speaking isiZulu helps in communicating with a wider range of people in our social circles,” explains education specialist Ntando Ncube. She says that being able to engage on a conversational level is always advantageous.

Communicating with others in their preferred language is beneficial not only in social circles but in the workplace as well. “Our workspaces are so much more dynamic now and having even a basic level of understanding of another of our 11 official languages allows for better communication,” Ntando says.

Did you know?

  • isiZulu has the most first language speakers of any language in South Africa.
  • isiZulu is one of the fastest-growing languages in Africa.
  • isiZulu has been internationally recognised by some esteemed tertiary institutions, such as the Beijing Foreign Studies University.

“Learners who study isiZulu have the advantage of being able to communicate, however simply, with a large number of South Africans in the future,” adds Nthando.

When is the best time to start learning a new language?

“When it comes to learning new languages, the sooner you start, the easier it is to retain and become proficient in the newly learned language,” Ntando says. Some studies have shown that it is best to learn a new language before age 10, while some seem to have proven that learning a new language before age 18 allows you to become grammatically fluent.

“Trying to learn a new language later in life can be more difficult,” Ntando explains. But if you are an older learner, all is not lost. Ntando says that teaching an ‘old dog’ a new language, like isiZulu, may just take a little more time. “Learning a new language at any age is a great endeavour, which can be beneficial in so many ways.”

Top tips for learning isiZulu

The age at which you start learning a language isn’t everything. What’s more important is using the right resources. Ntando explains that younger children between Grades R–12 seem to manage better at incidental learning, which involves listening to and imitating a new language during set lessons. Adults seem better at intentionally studying a language.

If you are interested in learning isiZulu as a second or third language, Ntando shares her top tips below:

  • Always set goals and prioritise learning common vocabulary.
  • Watch isiZulu TV programmes, such as the news or cartoons that have been translated into isiZulu.
  • Home language or first additional language learners should practice the language at home as much as possible.
  • Second or third-language learners are encouraged to talk to first-language speakers who can provide helpful speaking practice or help clear up any issues learners may find challenging.

Read more: Do’s and don’ts of online learning

Learn isiZulu at the Impaq Online School

Ready to start learning a new language? The Impaq Online School offers isiZulu as a First Additional Language for learners in Grades 4 to 12. Learners can practise the language in class under the guidance of our language educators and are provided with several additional resources that can assist with their isiZulu studies. “Learners also have access to videos that teach new vocabulary in fun and effective ways,” Ntando explains.

With the world becoming more and more globalised, it is becoming increasingly important to be able to speak multiple languages. Add isiZulu to your list of skills and register with the Impaq Online School today!