Q5: Appreciating isintu in adland, with Melusi Tshabalala [interview]
by Carey Finn (@carey_finn) South Africa’s favourite isiZulu teacher recently added more African languages to his Everyday Speak virtual classroom, with no plans to slow down. He weighs in on learning, and leaving our comfort zones.
Q5: Towards the end of 2019, you launched Everyday Xhosa, Sesotho, Sepedi and Kiswahili (among others). What has the response to these learning spaces been like, and what can we expect from them this year?
Melusi Tshabalala: Yes, I recruited other writers to come on board and contribute to the Everyday Speak family but sharing words, phrases and expressions in their own languages. So far, we have Everyday Xhosa, Everyday Setswana, Everyday Sesotho, Everyday Sepedi, Everyday Kiswahili and, of course, Everyday Zulu. The reception has been great. People really are eager to learn, not only the languages but also about different cultures. The stories that accompany the words also share a lot about the worlds the different writers inhabit. Everyday Kiswahili has been particularly interesting, because the writer is based in Kenya so we get to learn a lot about Kenyan life. It’s also been interesting to see South Africans’ minds get blown by the similarities between Kiswahili and SA’s languages, particularly the Nguni languages — isiZulu, isiXhosa, isiNdebele and isiSwati.
I secured a feature on Cape Talk for Everyday Xhosa, and I am currently working to secure more radio features for the other languages. It really would be great to have Everyday Kiswahili on SA radio, as the language will be taught in SA schools now.
Everyday Zulu already has features on East Coast Radio [also available on iono.fm — ed-at-large] and Kaya FM. There is also an e-learning portal and face-to-face classes. Unlike the Facebook initiative, where just one word/phrase/expression is shared a day, the beginner course (e-learning and face-to-face) is a proper curriculum, designed to help learners start to read, write and understand the language.
Q5: When might we see other African languages go live, and what’s the end goal you have in mind?
MT: There are no set dates for when other languages might go live. They go live as and when I secure great writers [who] will deliver top-quality content on a regular basis. I hope to partner with more female writers going forward, because so far only Everyday Sesotho is written by a woman — and the value of having a female voice is very clear. Just like with Kiswahili, I also hope to get writers [who] aren’t based in SA and will share their languages with us. The popularity of Everyday Kiswahili has shown that South Africans are very eager to learn about fellow Africans. We have been isolated for so long, one might think we are not interested in other Africans — but that is not the truth.
My hope is for the initiative to grow beyond Facebook, as is already happening with Everyday Zulu and Everyday Xhosa. That way, we reach more people and it is more engaging. I would be happiest when the initiative gets more and more people to break out of their silos and interact with people that aren’t like them. SA’s diversity is a great strength but a lot of people are stuck in their little corners.
Q5: When choosing which African languages to learn, how would you recommend readers in adland decide which one(s) to focus on?
MT: I think the best place to start is to look at which province you are based in, and which language is prevalent in that province: Eastern Cape — isiXhosa; Western Cape — isiXhosa; Northern Cape — isiXhosa/Setswana, KwaZulu-Natal — isiZulu, Free State — Sesotho, Mpumalanga — isiZulu/isiNdebele/isiSwati, Limpopo — xiTsonga/Sepedi/TshiVenda, North West — Setswana, and Gauteng — you decide. One should also look at what language the people you deal with on a day-to-day basis speak. You learn a language so you can speak it.
Q5: In your opinion, what are the biggest barriers for adults when it comes to acquiring a new language?
MT: The biggest barrier for a lot of people is fear. Because of our country’s apartheid past, people are scared of the ‘other’, and that stops them from experiencing the beauty that is SA and its people to the fullest. There is nothing to fear. Remind yourself of that and take that first step towards learning a new language.
Then you have the ones [who] believe there is no point in learning African languages because there is English and we should all speak English. That mindset is very damaging because, by refusing to learn an African language, you deprive yourself of experiencing your fellow citizens. English-speakers need to ditch the unfounded superiority complex and they will see how much more they will enjoy this country.
Time is also a real factor. For some people, it is difficult to find the time to learn. This is exactly why I launched the Everyday Zulu e-learning portal. With the portal, you learn at your own pace and at your convenience.
Q5: Could you give us a word or two, in isiZulu, for the major change the South African advertising and marketing industry needs to make this year, or challenge we need to face?
MT: The word I would like to share with the advertising and marketing peeps is “isintu”. Isintu is the ways, languages and customs of African people. The root word is abantu — people. The singular is umuntu — a person. Ubuntu is another related word.
While there rightly is a lot of talk around tech, in SA we also face the challenge of having to connect with people in more-meaningful ways. We can only do that when we respect and appreciate isintu, not only in our campaigns but also in our work spaces. We need to create work spaces that allow abantu to be themselves and this will be reflected in the work that is produced. Abantu, creating work for abantu need to be in touch with isintu.
Special offer: If a company enrolls 10 or more staff members for the Everyday Zulu beginner course, Everyday Zulu will match that by giving away an equal number of e-learning enrollments to a school of the company’s choosing. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more info.
- Q5: Moving South Africa forward, with Melusi Tshabalala [interview]
- Book Launch: Melusi’s Everyday Zulu by Melusi Tshabalala
Carey Finn (@carey_finn) is a writer and editor with over decade and a half of industry experience, having covered everything from ethical sushi in Japan to the technicalities of roofing, agriculture, medical stuff and more. She’s also taught English and journalism, and dabbled in various other communications ventures along the way, including risk reporting. As a contributing writer to MarkLives.com, her regular column “Q5” hones in on strategic insights, analysis and data through punchy interviews with inspiring professionals in diversive fields.