Mzansi youth are focused on the prize and English is their means to it.

Most of the older generation consider “Ama2000” (as they are widely known) as rebellious, however through that rebellion, there’s a boldness and a sense of challenging the status quo. They seem to want to only focus on what benefits their future. These young people understand that the world is a melting pot of cultures with English managing to bring them seamlessly together. They are not at all against speaking their home languages but recognise that language – just like the world, is changing and English is their gateway into this new reality.  

English is the highest most spoken language in the world and according to StatsSA, the fifth most spoken language in South Africa. Regardless of its rank in the South African context, it is also the most preferred teaching language. This has allowed English to be a much-favoured language used among young people. Imagine a group of friends, one Indian – Gujarati speaking, one Black – Xhosa speaking and one White – Afrikaans speaking having a friendly conversation, their mode of language would be English as they come from different backgrounds and speak different languages. With English used at school and with friends, the home might be the only place to speak one’s home-language. What happens when one also speaks English at home even though they come from a non-English speaking family? I spoke to a few children who only speak English. Some may understand their home language, and some may not.

When asked why brother and sister, Aqeel and Ammarah did not speak Gujarati – a language native to their mother, they both stated that no-one spoke it a home. They also mentioned that their parents were responsible for teaching it to them but never did. They often hear their mother speak Gujarati to their grandparents and other members from mom’s side of the family. That’s it!

Sisters, Sihle and Siyambulela on the other hand can understand isiXhosa but cannot speak it. Although both their parents are Xhosa, they only speak English to their children. Sihle said she would like to learn isiXhosa and thinks she still has an opportunity to learn it from her parents. Siyambulela wants to learn isiXhosa as well but is currently preoccupied with learning Korean, even though her father isn’t happy with that decision. “I would like to live in South Korea and study to be a dancer. I know I can be a dancer [here] in South Africa, but I don’t want to stay here and deal with loadshedding.”, said Siyambulela sharing the same opinion as Tlholo who can fluently speak Sesotho but cannot write it. Although she can understand and speak Sesotho, she does not think it is necessary for every child in South Africa to learn their home language. She does not think that young people should burden themselves with learning a language they probably will not use in their studies or future workplaces.  Her plans include moving to Canada to study Criminal Psychology and feels that she will not need Sesotho for that.

According to New World Immigration, “[young] South Africans are giving up on their country of birth to explore options for a better future (safety and security) as migrants in a foreign country”. Unlike much of the older generation, these children have a desire to live, study and work abroad and do not consider language and culture to be vital to their current and future lives. I could somewhat agree with that sentiment that one needs to equip themselves with tools they will need in the future, such as learning the language of the country they plan to immigrate to.

What was clear from the children interviewed – whether planning on staying in the country or not, they did not associate their home languages with their culture. They felt they could still be proud Gujarati, Xhosa or Sotho without learning the languages. For them speaking their home language is simply for the benefit of the older generation. They could learn to speak them in order to communicate with their grandparents and other older family members.

Indeed, these young people made some valid points. The world is now made up of global communities who do not only belong to one culture. However, one cannot deny that our home languages are gateways into our culture, our essence – what makes us who we are. They are our point of contact with the people we belong with – our brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, grandparents, our mothers, and fathers. They connect us with people we consider family without being blood related. Our home languages are our expressions without explanations. They are OUR MOTHER TONGUE.