A multilingual mindset

A multilingual mindset

As a leading university in Africa, Stellenbosch University believes multilingualism matters. We believe that multilingualism is about more than just being able to use multiple languages. It is about giving people a voice, regardless of the language(s) they use. It is about recognising the value of what is said, no matter what language is used, and whether it is said in English, Afrikaans, isiXhosa or South African Sign Language. It talks to our diversity as a country – and allows us to connect in ways we otherwise could not. Multilingualism is therefore also an attitude.

Our focus at SU is not only on institutional multilingualism, but also on individual multilingualism. In other words, we do not focus only on establishing multilingual spaces at the University (through translation and interpreting, for example) where a diverse group of monolingual people co-exist, but we actively encourage people to use more than one language, even if they can say and understand only a little in some of those languages.

Individual multilingualism is an asset that we would like to develop because of the clear academic advantages this presents, both nationally and internationally. Creating opportunities for individual multilingualism allows people to develop their ability to use languages or varieties of languages in different forms and at different levels of mastery. If you have ever tried to learn a new language, you will know that the learning experience can transform your life. As your experience of a language in its cultural context expands, you will find that you do not keep these languages and cultures in strictly separated mental compartments, but rather build up a communicative, plurilingual competence or ability to which all your knowledge and experience of language contribute, and in which languages interrelate and interact.

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Translanguaging in the classroom is one such plurilingual practice or behaviour. While it is important to create space for students to use tools such as translanguaging to communicate informally in the classroom, there is also a need for students to study language(s) formally and use the academic and technical registers of these languages.

The ability to use more than one language for a variety of purposes, at different levels of proficiency or ability. Multilingual people, societies or institutions usually appreciate diversity. At SU, we encourage both institutional and individual multilingualism.
Language Day 2021

With this interrelation and interaction of languages and connection between people in mind, the Division for Learning and Teaching Enhancement hosted an energetic online event where we, as SU students and staff, could share the opportunities and possibilities multilingualism gives us.

Language Day 2021 took place on 30 September, and provided an opportunity for academics, students and professional academic support service (PASS) staff to learn from each other in re-imagining conversations around language at SU. We had positive and inspired conversations about integrating a multilingual mindset into teaching, learning and assessment, and into social life outside the lecture halls.

The theme for the day was Language, learning, life! Implementing multilingualism @SU in academic and social spaces, and was explored by means of two panel discussions with three sub-themes each:

Multilingualism in (augmented remote) learning, teaching and assessment

Multilingualism in administrative, social and living spaces

A new kind of intentionality is required to make multilingualism part of the fabric of all the various spaces at SU, from teaching and learning to living spaces. All of the aspects of multilingualism need to be recognised – individual, institutional and societal multilingualism.”

All involved were willing to work together to realise this, to invoke multilingualism as an attitude, and there was strong support for the recommendation that multilingualism be made more visible as part of graduate attributes in the new SU Teaching and Learning Strategy.

Watch the video playlist capturing the essence of the day below, from the multilingual mindset video, the opening session by the Rector, the panel presentations to concluding remarks by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Learning and Teaching).

The contributions were short and punchy, keeping the online attendees engaged, and the 11 breakaway sessions after each panel discussion provided opportunity for attendees to conduct lively, positive discussions and to share their perspectives.

Read the report on Language Day 2021 here.


We use a few words on this page that could do with some more explanation. Have a look at our clarifications below to make sure that you don’t miss out on some of the meaning.

Stories about language and multilingualism

The ripple effect of language

Most of us don’t think much about language in the abstract as we go about our everyday lives. And yet, the language we use in our studies, in work contexts…
girl with wings out of autumn leaves

A musing on the freedom language brings

Imagine a world without language. Is that even possible to imagine? Isn’t language so intertwined with thinking that it’s no use trying to think if you don’t think in language? How would you access your own thoughts and communicate them if it’s not encoded in some kind of language?

International Mother Language Day poster

Let’s celebrate the first one

It’s most probably the language in which you’d swear when you get a very sudden fright. Chances are that you also dream in this language. If you’re lucky, you’ll know nursery rhymes in it, and maybe even a few archaic idioms and made-up words…

This post is also available in: English Afrikaans isiXhosa