Breaking the Language Barrier Within the Department of Health

12th May 2022

UKZN Extended Learning

– by Nkosingiphile Ntshangase

On the 9th of May 2022, UKZN Extended Learning hosted healthcare workers from the Department of Health on the Howard and Pietermaritzburg campuses for the IsiZulu Basic programme. South Africa has an increasingly diverse workforce where it is beneficial to know multiple languages. Being fluent in more than one language can improve your competitiveness in the job market and expand your relatability with your peers. According to South African Gateway, approximately 78% of the population in KwaZulu-Natal speak isiZulu and 23% speak isiZulu at a national level. Civil servants across the public sector departments must have a versatile workforce that is able to effectively communicate with and address the concerns of the communities. Having a good understanding of isiZulu will help them navigate the various cultural backgrounds and expectations.

Understanding another culture and dialect allows you to interact with different people. By learning IsiZulu, extending beyond the basics of learning a new language, you are introducing yourself to a different realm of culture. Having a working knowledge of more than one language also helps one become more open-minded and feel more connected to other cultures.

One of the delegates in attendance on our IsiZulu Basic programme, Mrs Naidoo (Quality Assurance Manager, Department of Health) stated:

“The IsiZulu training has been very interesting and informative. The facilitator for this course has good teaching techniques that have allowed me to grasp the terms easily. The manner of her teaching style has made learning Zulu less complicated as it was a language that I had previously struggled with. But I am learning quite well due to her teaching method. I enjoyed learning important terms that relate to the language that we use in the Department of Health such as ‘udokotela’, as we are quite restricted in our Zulu terminology. I encourage all departments to do this short course. We are always conversing with people whose first language is Zulu so it would be beneficial for all types of professions.”

It is imperative that stakeholders and communities can communicate in their native language as it is the first step to building lasting and positive relationships. By speaking in a common language, language barriers can be broken down, and all parties will feel more comfortable and confident. Facilitating these kinds of relationships is imperative in better serving communities. Having a better understanding of the native language will mean that the communities needs will be addressed, leading to better results in service delivery.