Reflections on the isiZulu for Medical Practitioners course

4th August 2017

Sarah Haffenden

– by Dr Phindi Dlamini

UEL recently hosted groups of medical practitioners on the Department of Health (DOH) funded Basic isiZulu short courses.

The Basic isiZulu course for Health practitioners and professionals covers simple isiZulu grammar to enable learners to make simple correct sentences and hold simple conversations with their patients/clients. It is presented in a communicative style with many practical activities to promote language proficiency. The content is structured into units with each unit covering topics through which the learner gains functional vocabulary to use in their own conversations and working environment. The course also provides an opportunity for learners to simulate the interactions they have with their clients/patients in isiZulu. The course does not only cover language but certain aspects of culture as well, which helps in understanding the behaviour or mannerisms of the patients/clients better.


What some of the doctors had to say:

  • The smile I get from my patients when I try to speak isiZulu is just amazing
  • I feel I connect more with my patients.
  • Although I knew a bit of isiZulu but I am feeling more confident now and I can also self-correct
  • I still use my hands a lot but now the hands are followed with words and my regular patients are excited
  • I don’t worry the nurses anymore because they also have a lot on their plates and besides they are not interpreters!
  • Everybody is excited and is eager to help me, interestingly no one wanted to help before I went for this course
  • My relationship with my regular patients has become stronger
  • My patients are opening up more to me
  • All what I used to hear was noise but now this noise has turned to sounds, sounds that make up words some of which I understand, it is really exciting
  • I cannot wait for an advanced course
  • I appreciate the fact that it is not only language but culture as well so this makes me understand the behaviour of my patients better


Dr Dlamini is an academic in the School of Arts at UKZN. She is an author of 40 isiZulu children’s books and translator of a significant number of children’s books from English into isiZulu.