HEALING WORDS: TAPPING THE POTENTIAL OF LANGUAGE IMMERSION AS A SUPPLEMENT TO LANGUAGE LEARNING IN A MULTILINGUAL CLINICAL ENVIRONMENT
The current South African Language Policy for Higher Education requires universities to implement multilingualism in their teaching and learning programmes to address equity of access and success in higher education. The University of Cape Town’s (UCT) response to this directive is embodied in its own policy, which explicitly communicates the intention of preparing students to participate fully in a multilingual society, where multilingual proficiency and awareness are deemed essential.
The nature of the Faculty of Health Sciences’ MBChB curriculum, which requires medical students to learn both Afrikaans and Xhosa (Languages) as a compulsory subject, is a product of a successfully implemented multilingualism strategy. Upon graduation graduates possess the necessary linguistic and cultural skills to effectively communicate with a patient in any of the three major languages of the Western Cape. The integrated vocational emphasis of language learning has earned the Faculties of Health Sciences and Humanities at UCT the Pan South African Languages Board (PanSALB) Multilingualism Award in 2010/2011 for the use and promotion of multilingualism in an institution of learning.
The unique context in which medical students are expected to acquire and demonstrate proficiency in a second and/or third language requires the employment of a variety of teaching strategies. This paper specifically explores the potential of a language immersion programme as a supplement to traditional language learning strategies within a multilingual clinical environment.
Participants enter a 2 ½ week immersion programme after having received 30 hours language tuition in the target language. They are expected to live with the Afrikaans/Xhosa-speaking family of a health practitioner. During the day students engage in the activities of the health facility under the supervision of their host. After-hours students are encouraged to integrate socially and culturally with the host family. All activities are conducted in the target language only. Language competency tests are conducted on points of entry and exit.
The language competency test results reveal that language was not the only entity that had improved. Students furthermore exhibited progress in their clinical competence and demonstrated an increase in cultural awareness and sensitivity.
The outcome of this specific language immersion programme is that medics were able to understand and be understood in the language of the patient. As a supplement to language learning, immersion should be strongly considered in contexts where professional self-sufficiency is preferred to the use of interpreters.