My own Afrikaans is pretty ‘sleg’. I’m pulling my hair out, trying to help my child with a language I don’t understand. Yip, I hear you. My last blog post focused on strategies we used to help my 14 year old son improve his school report dramatically within the space of just 12 weeks. I received a lot of great feedback from parents across South Africa with specific questions. One of those is how a non-Afrikaans speaking parent can help their non-Afrikaans speaking child pass Afrikaans as a subject.
I can’t write about Afrikaans without featuring this fabulous meat cake.
You speak English, isiXhosa or isiZulu at home, but the education department says that your child has to pass an additional language at school in order to pass his or her grade. For many parents Afrikaans is the only choice offered at your child’s school as a First Additional Language (referred to in our time as a “second language”). Your daughter comes home in tears because she did not understand the instructions that were in Afrikaans on the Afrikaans test and therefore she didn’t understand what she was supposed to do. And the teacher wasn’t allowed to help her, which sounds unfair. You phone the school to complain, only to be told that the education department stipulates that test instructions need to be given in the language that is being tested. Your son is frustrated one afternoon after his Afrikaans writing exam because the teacher wouldn’t let him use his dictionary. Again, you inquire with the school, only to be told that learners aren’t allowed to use dictionaries in exam situations. Learners are supposed to have a big enough Afrikaans vocabulary to be able to write coherent sentences for their grade level. Additionally, many parents struggle to speak or understand Afrikaans, which in turn leads them to feel hopeless. The good news is that with a bit of effort, you CAN help your child improve their Afrikaans mark within the space of a few short months. Please understand that this post isn’t about having a go at Afrikaans. I love the Afrikaans language and culture. Disclaimer: my wife is Afrikaans. But the reality is that any First Additional Language can be a source of frustration for many parents and learners. The ideas shown below can be applied to any First Additional Language that your child might be struggling with, including English, isiXhosa and isiZulu.
So how can I help my child?
We’ve put together a “getting started” guide of 3 fairly easy-to-implement strategies to help your child through their Afrikaans exams. Just relax, take it slowly, don’t be negative about your child’s First Additional Language (because this will rub off on your child), and follow these steps …
1. Start with the INSTRUCTION words!
The biggest problem with any First Additional Language exam paper, is that even if your child studied well for it, he or she might not understand the instructions in the paper and therefore won’t know how to answer the questions. The best way to help with this is to make your child study these instruction words beforehand, so that they are sure of what is being asked of them. Teachers generally don’t trick learners with instructions; they are simply following the guidelines set for them in the CAPS document (which is freely available on the Department of Education’s website). This means that you can also access these instruction words and teach it to your child. But if you don’t feel like trawling through CAPS documents, then just look at your child’s Afrikaans past papers and sign up to WorksheetCloud for loads of Afrikaans revision exams and worksheets. Here are some examples of instruction words your child must know:
- Verduidelik (Explain)
- Kies die korrekte antwoord (Choose the correct answer)
- Antwoord in ‘n volsin (Answer using a full sentence)
- Antwoord met een woord (Answer using one word)
- Waar of vals (True or false)
- Gee ‘n rede vir jou antwoord (Give a reason for your answer)
2. Use an official dictionary.
A reliable and current bilingual dictionary is a wise investment. Your child will get much use out of a good bilingual dictionary. Although dictionaries are generally not permitted in exam situations, they can be used when doing writing or any other exercise in class or when preparing for tasks (like oral presentations) at home. I have an admission to make (and I hope my wife isn’t reading this). I’m all for efficient (my wife might say “lazy”) working, which means I teach my son about efficient ways to get things done. The quickest way to translate words at home? Google. It’s fabulous! But only allow your child to Google translate words if they demonstrate they have sufficient paper-dictionary skills. No point in using Google for everything, when you don’t know how to use a physical dictionary. Pro tip: If you click on the speaker icon, Google will read the word or phrase for you to hear the pronunciation. If your child is struggling with Afrikaans, improving their reading skills might also be helpful.
3. And use a “homemade” dictionary!
Want to get your child to learn and remember words? Make them write it down. A handy tips is to buy your child an A5-size notebook in which they can write any new Afrikaans words they learn throughout the year, along with the English translation. Quoting actual advice I received from a teacher: “The kids who do this in my class almost always do better than those who don’t.” Here is the beginning of my son’s homemade dictionary …
What comes next?
I’d like to point out that following the 3 strategies above is an excellent start to helping your child pass their First Additional Language. They are simple enough to implement this week (start today!). In upcoming blog posts, we’ll delve deeper into additional strategies and methods that any ordinary parent can implement. In the mean time, you should consider signing up to WorksheetCloud to access practice exams and worksheets in Afrikaans and other subjects. Stay tuned. I’m very interested to hear how you help your child with their First Additional Language. Post your comments, suggestions and questions below. I personally read and answer every comment.