TikTok mom encourages mother tongue learning for South Africans

By Thomson Reuters Feb 23, 2024 | 2:06 AM

By Thando Hlophe and Nellie Peyton

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – “The struggle is real”, reads the caption of one TikTok video in which South African mom Lungile Zenda tries to teach her daughter how to say a sentence in their native language, Zulu.

It took 11-year-old Luyanda several tries before she correctly pronounced the phrase “I have a dog” (“Ngi nenja”).

The video has over three million views, with many laughing emojis in the comments. But Zenda’s humorous home Zulu teaching videos have also gained a following because viewers can relate.

In South Africa, where English is the dominant language of work and education, some children are losing proficiency in their mother tongues, the most common of which are Zulu and Xhosa.

With over 150,000 followers, Lungile’s TikTok channel is sparking conversations about the importance of linguistic diversity and cultural preservation.

“When I was growing up there was a huge thing around being able to speak English … because you are perceived to be able to get better opportunities,” said Zenda, 37.

“I never thought, oh, I must teach (my daughter) Zulu.”

It was only when her daughter was around nine that Zenda realized she was not picking up Zulu on her own. This spurred the language lessons, which she said has been a fun bonding opportunity for her and Luyanda.

South Africa has 12 officially recognised languages. Most schools teach in English from grade 4 with an option to take a second language, although the offerings differ.

Johannesburg resident Amanda Green, who has a daughter the same age as Luyanda, said she stumbled upon the videos on TikTok and watches them regularly.

She grew up speaking Zulu but speaks English at home because it is the language she shares with her husband, who is not from South Africa. Their daughter also does not speak Zulu.

“I found them relatable,” she said of the videos. “A lot of people are in the same boat but they’re afraid to admit it.”

(Reporting by Thando Hlophe, Additional reporting and writing by Nellie Peyton; Editing by Tomasz Janowski)