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Example: Multilingual Professionals as Translators

In this video, Saara Kamati, an administrator at the University of Namibia, speaks of her own and her family’s language practices.
You speak many languages can you tell us about your languages? and how you learnt them? when you learnt them? how you use them? Okay I’m not sure of many languages but I speak different local languages and my own language, I am Oshiwambo speaking of course, that you learn from home and from when we were growing up and luckily for us we attended school we started learning English whereas our parents when they were in school they were taught in Afrikaans. So we had a mixture of languages spoken everywhere we are, and that I have also grown up in a town where a lot of people are speaking in other different languages other than Oshiwambo.
So my home language is Oshiwambo as I said, I can speak Oshiwambo, I can speak English, I speak Afrikaans and I try a bit of Portuguese and I actually to try here and there some of that. I have learned my English in school and Afrikaans I have learnt in school and mostly in the streets because that is the local language where, especially in this town, and Swakopmund where I grew up, people communicate a lot in Afrikaans. So even if I didn’t go to school I would probably have spoken, be speaking Afrikaans because that’s the only other language that a Oshiwambo person can speak to a Otjiherero, a Otjiherero can speak to a Damara and so forth. So yes.
So if I were to ask you how many in how many languages you can say good morning to people, or greet people? I would say Portuguese I would say German, I would say Oshiwambo, Afrikaans, and English. Ok. No Otjiherero?? Otjiherero, I can try a bit I can also say that because it’s not far away from Oshiwambo. What about your own heritage, your family. Are there other languages in the family? So your mother and your father were they all Oshiwambo speakers and Oshiwambo is a complex language as well there are lots of dialects within Oshiwambo. So what about that? My mum is a little bit complicated because my mum’s father came from Angola, of course they didn’t speak Portuguese.
But they also knew a little bit of it and their mother is from the south and although they didn’t also speak a little bit of Damara they can speak because they also learned or when growing up in the place, in Outjo where they grew up. So my mum spoke fluent German because she stayed in Swakopmund she worked with Germans and then she spoke fluent German. So my father speaks Oshindonga. It’s also another dialect in Oshiwambo so we on my mother’s side basically we do speak Oshikwanyama and then my father is Oshindonga but my father has also people that have and in family relatives that lived in Ongandjera. So we also tend to speak a little bit of that as well.
So it’s complicated but we all understand each other. And the other thing that I’m interested in, you are professional woman and you work in a professional environment, do you mix your languages? Do you use any of the heritage languages? Or the other languages that you have? Or is it only English? I mix definitely. Even though I’m a professional even in the workplaces we are allowed to speak any other language it’s easier to communicate to the person and that you want to make them feel comfortable and fell that they are appreciated. Sometimes you speak their language and try just to say that listen I appreciate you and please do that and that for me.
It’s easier for them to understand when you speak to them in their language they understand. Mostly not everybody will understand and will speak English even though you are working in a professional world. So I do mix a lot, I speak a lot with Afrikaans if you need for me to work my colleagues most of them when we are sitting together we don’t speak English and beside when somebody comes to my office, I will ask them good morning, how can I help you? because it’s an official language but if I’m sitting with my colleagues and my friends at work they mostly speak Afrikaans.
And I will try to talk Damara because they are most of them a little of Damara in other languages. So yes I do mix. I would also like to ask you about the generations and how this is changing now. So you are also a mother and you also work with one of the local schools, so how do you see things changing now with children who are growing up in Namibia today? What they call the born frees, the people who were born after the independence.
Yes, it’s quite interesting because now English has become so dominant and even children in school even my own children, I will try to speak in my own home language but they may not understand probably sometimes or they will understand what I’m asking them or talking to them about, but the response they give me would be English. It’s their only language even if they are playing from kindergarten up they come to high school it’s the only language now that they are mostly using.
You will find it very very difficult for a young child now, especially the ones are primary until grade twelve or let me say even the young teenagers that finished school last year even my own sons that are starting university now, they will even just talk to me and they will talk to me in English. And because even if I said something in my own language they would have to ask back mummy now what does that mean?
It’s quite sad, I could say but English has become so dominant that all the children now especially in cities and in townships, I know at the villages the children must still keep stick to the home languages because their grandparents will not understand when they speak English

Many of us, today, use a variety of languages in our personal and professional lives. In many ways, we are translators (or interpreters) and self-translators.

We may be more or less aware of how much we move between languages, but our linguistic repertoires (the range of languages we use, with different levels of fluency, in different places, at different time, and with different people) are vital to what we do.

In this video, Saara Kamati, an administrator at the University of Namibia, speaks of her own and her family’s language practices – and how these are changing across different generations. Saara is from Namibia, a country characterised by high levels of multilingualism.

You will hear her mentioning a number of languages, many of which are included in the list below, which gives details of the main languages currently spoken in Namibia according to recent census data.

Namibia has about 13 standardised languages, which are the country’s “national languages”, namely, Oshikwanyama, Oshindonga (these two closely related languages are at times also considered as one under the name Oshiwambo), Khoekhoegowab, Otjiherero, Rukwangali, Silozi, Rumanyo, Thimbukushu, Julhoansi, Setswana, Afrikaans, English and German.

In addition to these 13 languages, there are 16 more African languages which do not have a literacy tradition and therefore also no recorded orthography. Namibia’s complex language map and its linguistic diversity make it particularly difficult to differentiate between certain languages and dialects, which explains why estimates of the indigenous languages in Namibia range between 10 and 30. English is the country’s ‘official language’ and the main language of education.

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