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Xhosa clicks with Twitter

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A Cape Town-based language school, Xhosa Fundis, is using Twitter to send out daily Xhosa phrase tweets to help people learn one of SA's most prevalent languages.

Xhosa is one of the most widely spoken languages in SA, with 15% of the population considering it their mother tongue and more than 40% able to converse in it, because of its close relationship to Zulu.

Apart from being one of the country's 11 official languages, Xhosa is also one of the three official languages in the Western Cape Province.

However, its emphasis on using various click sounds at certain letters, such as x, c and q, makes it unique within the Nguni languages, and rather difficult for European and many other African language speakers to master.

Kyle Hudson, owner of Xhosa Fundis, began using Twitter in August last year as a means to help people to learn a phrase daily and so familiarise themselves with the language in incremental steps.

“Research into teaching languages has shown that small steps - by learning one phrase at a time every day - can help a person develop a strong affinity for a language. Even if they do not become completely fluent in it, they do develop a rapport and this helps them develop a sense of connection with the fluent speakers,” she says.

The school sends a Xhosa phrase, linking to a Posterous site where followers can listen to the phrase being spoken by a Xhosa speaker. The page then gives a breakdown of the word parts, as well as any other grammatical or cultural information related to the phrase. The same is available through Facebook and via SMS.

Hudson says there are about 260 followers of the Twitter service and that they appear to be an eclectic bunch.

“Some obviously do live here in SA, others are South Africans living overseas and want to brush up, and some appear to be from other African countries looking to learn a South African language.”

Tweets referring to current affairs have proved to be popular, such as recent ones, Ubusika bufikile, meaning “Winter has arrived”; Ndithanda isoka, meaning, “I love soccer”; and Ingenile ibhola, meaning, “The ball has gone in”.

Other recent tweets have included phrases such as Ndiyakuthanda, meaning “I love you”; Ndibhizi namhlanje, meaning “I'm busy today”; and the popular Walala wasala, meaning “You snooze, you lose”.

Hudson says it is difficult to tell how many other language type courses are using social networking services such as Twitter or Facebook, as none of them have specific phrase words or sections dealing with language teaching.

Tech and social networking fundis may not realise that the word “fundi”, which has become a popular South African English term to describe an expert, has its root in the Xhosa word meaning teacher.

To follow Xhosa Fundis on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/xhosafundis. For a direct link to its Posterous site, go to http://xhosafundis.posterous.com/.

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13 Aug
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