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Innovation in isiZulu

As a quality, diverse and affordable school – established with the aim of equality and integration in South African society – it had always been our intention for isiZulu to be our First Additional Language (FAL). 

Which is why, towards the end of 2020, we began the process of trying to recruit and appoint a suitably qualified isiZulu-speaking teacher. With help, we developed a robust recruitment process to ensure we appointed the right person. This included an interview with Rachel and I, three days in-classroom observations, interviews by the children and the school board.

We were looking for a person who would work alongside and respect the children, a person who would listen and respond to their questions, thoughts and wonders, as they sought to ‘go further’.  Such a teacher needed to be able to encourage and work with each child’s unique contributions, support them as they develop 21st Century skills, all in the process of integrating isiZulu into what we were exploring in the different phases.

What started as an amazing opportunity, became something of a challenge.  Since three rounds of interviews failed to find a suitably qualified person, with the necessary skills, we decided a different approach was needed.

So in May this year, we appointed Nolwazi (below), a Childcare Practitioner, who speaks isiZulu, to work alongside Rachel, who is a language specialist.


Nolwazi and Rachel spend time together each week, planning the content and activities that will enable our Upper Foundation and Intermediate Phase children to develop an understanding and love for the language.

Whilst working as a teacher in the UK for 11 years, prior to moving to South Africa, Rachel had the opportunity to study for her Post Graduate Certificate in Specific Learning Difference (SpLD). This enabled her to develop specialist teaching skills, particularly skills that utilize a multi-sensory approach to learning, which are beneficial for all children. 

Rachel has applied these skills to her daily teaching, and most recently to the teaching of isiZulu.  As a result, the children develop their own set of reading and spelling cards (pictured below).  On one-side they write the word in isiZulu, and on the back they draw a picture for that word. 


In reading isiZulu, children often work with their peers; they look and read the word, say what it is in English, then turn over and check they are correct by looking at the picture.  For spelling, they look at the picture, say and write the word in isiZulu, and then turn the card over to check. 


We have found that by practicing these regularly, the children are rapidly developing their vocabulary, reading and spelling skills.  It also enables each child to develop independence skills and intrinsic motivation.

The children are encouraged to apply the vocabulary being learnt to communicate verbally and in writing.  This is carefully ‘scaffolded‘ – a practice that we apply throughout the school, as a way of ensuring children receive the structured helped, guidance and support that they need to develop their learning. 

Often the children are shown pictures, and asked the question: what do they notice?  We do this in other areas, so the children are used to sharing their thinking, but now they are expected to form sentences in isiZulu. The children are given thinking time with a partner to work out their sentences, before having the opportunity to share with the wider group.  Nolwazi is then able to teach principles of the isiZulu language. 


It has been amazing to hear the children express their ideas as they link pronouns, verbs and nouns together.  We have even got to the stage of introducing an additional isiZulu lesson for the Intermediate Phase (9 and 10 year olds) on a Tuesday afternoon, to support them in their desire to form numerous elements into one sentence. I (Philip) have also introduced the reading and speaking of high frequency isiZulu words every morning. It is incredible to see how eager and enthusiastic the children are.

Integrating isiZulu into the rest of the school day is hugely important to us, so the vocabulary the children learn aligns with what they are exploring through other disciplines, subjects, topics. As an example, our Foundation Phase are currently learning about Houses and Homes, which means they are reading texts about different kinds of houses in English, learning about why houses are made of different materials in Life Skills, and have made homes for ‘minibeasts’ and sketched their own homes in Art and Design. In isiZulu they are learning the vocabulary related to houses and homes. 


Greetings are also becoming a normal part of the school day, with Nolwazi greeting each child as they arrive and leave school.  Often as the children are receiving hand sanitizer, they will thank Rachel in isiZulu – Ngiyabonga.  It is wonderful to see the children embrace the language.

Since isiZulu is such a priority for us, Rachel supports Nolwazi throughout the lessons, often asking questions to support the children’s understanding of how the language is structured, and giving 1:1 support where necessary.


By working as a team, it is truly remarkable how Rachel and Nolwazi have been able to develop such an innovative approach to the teaching and learning of a language, an approach that is also consistent with our belief that every child is capable, creative, curious and multi-intelligent.  Children are developing knowledge and skills, as adults listen and respond to their wonderings and questions. They are being gently encouraged to go further in a supportive environment and developing a genuine love for languages.

As a staff team we are committed to developing even further; as we begin to introduce ‘shared reading’ as a whole class this term, we are once again asking ourselves what scaffolding will be required to enable children to develop skills in the reading of an isiZulu text.  During planning we will consider the key interventions we put in place to support children as they read an English text together, and consider what we should apply to isiZulu.

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