What makes ZuluMites different from the teaching your child is receiving at their school?

Should I even bother sending my child to ZuluMites if they already do Zulu at school?

All reasonable questions from parents who, deep down inside, know something is missing from their child’s isiZulu learning but can’t quite put their finger on it. And because there is simply nothing like ZuluMites available on the market today, it begs some unpacking of our model and curriculum so you know exactly how valuable a ZuluMites start is in life for your child, and why it’s absolutely essential to move your child to our Zulu programme specifically.

Almost every Zulu classroom in this country is teaching your child isiZulu through their first language. They are throwing out one or two Zulu words in a sentence and then explaining everything in the mother tongue (as if children need everything explained to them in order to know what’s going on around them). All this is doing, however, is putting your child off the language. Inherently they are hearing the message that isiZulu is not an important language to learn, I don’t need to learn it, I can get by in English.  And this subtle subconscious messaging is sabotaging all our best efforts to learn this language. It simply does not work. Just ask anyone who has ever tried learning Japanese from a book vs. someone who landed in Japan and needed to find food, the toilet and a place to sleep!

ZuluMites, on the other hand, realizes that children need a full immersion environment in order to be motivated to learn the language. There has to be a reason, a need, and so by ensuring that everything in that class is said only in isiZulu, we are creating that need – and if nothing else we are communicating to the child that learning this important language is not optional, it is necessary. And that is the first step we need to get right.

Moving on from there, we make it fun. Language is a means to an end, not an end in itself, and so we can’t just stop with them learning the language we must give them a purpose in that language. We learn language so that we can communicate with people – so that we can say things, and find out things about others so that we can know more. Language classes throughout our country rely on workbooks and worksheets in order to teach isiZulu, but true language ability can only be tested through its usefulness and usage – so there must be lots of speaking and engaging opportunities in any language class.

ZuluMites provides that: Children are motivated to want to play the games, repeat the sentences, and engage with their teachers and one another because our games are fun, and our teachers are passionate. They have been well trained to draw children out when they need to, to take a hard line when appropriate, and be completely engaging for young children.

So (1) we get the children in the class and subtly communicate the importance of learning isiZulu through our full immersion environment (only isiZulu is spoken); and (2) we engage them with our fun activities and skilled teachers. Then (3) we take them on a systematic journey through topics and themes that are most appropriate for their stage of learning, taught in a helpful and motivating way.

We developed this curriculum ourselves when we looked around at what was on offer and saw the unhelpful and non-sequential way things language isiZulu is being taught. Learning a second language is not that different from the way you learn your first. The same process is followed whether you are 3mo, 3years or 30years, and it starts with what is the most necessary to say: For example, to a baby – you focus on words like Hello, Bye-Bye, Mama, Dada, point to objects they can see, and repeat basic actions like eat, drink, sit, go which are most helpful in their context.

This is also how you should start learning isiZulu. You don’t berate a toddler for incorrect pronunciation when they are 1yr, and you certainly don’t teach them what vowels are and how to use them! Yet that is sadly what isiZulu teachers do in their very first lessons at our schools – they teach vowels and pronunciation – without context, and devoid of meaning – and they teach grammar.

ZuluMites is first and foremost about speaking, using the language (even if it’s only a little) to communicate your needs. We begin with greetings and farewells and these are reinforced in every single lesson from there on. We focus on nouns that they can see around them: in the home, outside, people, food and objects – and we couple them with simple verbs that can be used across different contexts: words like love, like, want, eat, drink, sit, go, stand, take, give, put down, pick up, see, touch, throw and catch.

Our lessons build systematically onto each other, and they are repeated with intention and care week on week. We have strategies where children are revising and building on what they have learnt with every lesson, with a slow introduction to grammar and pronunciation at the appropriate stages. So after just a few weeks in a ZuluMites class your children will already be so much further along in their progress of learning isiZulu – they will be motivated to speak and learn more, able to comprehend much of what is going on around them because of our deliberate repetition, and will be constructing their own simple sentences.

We have spent years crafting our isiZulu programme, and truly believe it is the best possible start you can give your child to set them up for success in this language. You will not regret the investment, and they will thank you for it.