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School of Languages



August 2010

Germany was covered under a blanket of snow, as Europe experienced its coldest winter in 30 years. I’m not usually tense during flights, but this was an exception. As I entered the airport building, I was greeted by a confusing disarray of German announcements, and I could hardly control my excitement! Shortly afterwards I took to the streets from within an air-conditioned Frankfurt airport to buy a train-ticket to Freiburg, but was shocked to reality. It was freezing cold! I put on all warm garments I could muster and went to have a cup of coffee at the airport "Bäckerei" (bakery). The first opportunity arose to put my German 3 skills to the test. “Ein Salamibrötchen mit Kaffee bitte!” “Gerne” the answer followed. When I marched in the streets like a stuffed doll, it seemed as though a curtain has been lifted from this country that I’ve always admired from afar. Since my last visit my German has improved dramatically. 


Enjoying the snow

Freiburg is a small student-town with a population of 200 000 people. It is surrounded by the forest-like hills of the Black Forest, and lies close to France and Switzerland. Amidst the medieval buildings and cobble-stoned streets, you only have to look at the forest to be back in nature! That was my main reason for choosing Freiburg, although the Albert-Ludwigs Universität is also regarded as one of Europe’s best.
Freiburg is regarded as Germany’s sunniest city, but was nevertheless freezing. The key to enjoying a European winter is to embrace it, otherwise you, as a sun-loving South African, will soon fall into depression! ‘Embracing’, implies to appreciate and participate in all the exciting winter activities. In this mountainous region I had many opportunities for skiing and snowboarding. The excitement and adrenaline of the ski experience, combined with the sacred silence one experiences when sitting in your ski-lift, brings about a feeling of euphoria.

The Participants
We were 40 participants, representing nine countries, Australia, New Zealand, Namibia, South Africa, Peru, Colombia, Brazil, Argentina and Chilli. This combination set the scene for cultural exchange and some wild parties! If ever a group of people know how to party, it is the South Americans. In addition to my German course, I also learnt to Tango, Salsa and Merengue. Eventually even the rigid Germans joined in the fun!

Interesting about the course was that German was the only factor we had in common. A conversation consisting of philosophers, lawyers, economists, linguists, engineers, conservationists, historians and musicians could quickly develop into passionate debates about politics, religion and other world issues, but over a couple of German beers we could also talk just as much rubbish! Our diversity was also ideal in the sense that German was the lingua franca and we had to speak it. During all the partying and working we had opportunities to make good friends. I have been promised a place to stay in nearly all the South American countries.

The locals
On arrival we were divided into different “Wohngemeinschaften”  (resembling our student hostels). These boarding-houses are cosmopolitan and mainly inhabited by international students. I shared a bathroom and kitchen with a Peruvian, a Turk and a German, but I also got along well with the Swedes. We took turns to cook and on a good evening we could have up to 6 different nationalities represented around the dining-table.


It appears as if the European men have become so refined, that they have lost something of the essence of their masculinity. It is very amusing to treat the so-called “emancipated” European women like real ladies, something which to them is an unknown surprise, catches them totally off-guard and is very confusing to the accuracy of their pre-conceived ideas about gender roles.

The Course
The course itself was very informative. I spent 100 hours on intensive language studies (oral, comprehension and grammar), 16 hours on “Landeskunde” and another 16 hours on literature. The language classes were challenging and satisfying, especially the grammar part, which has always been a grey area in my German training. The literature was very enriching. I was introduced  to writers, poets and philosophers  like Goethe, Rilke, Hoffmann, Kafka, Von Eichendorf and Süskind ,who could really speak to one’s soul.

The main thing about a cultural exchange is that it makes one inquisitive about new people, places, languages and possibilities. When I started studying German in my first year, I could never have imagined how many doors it would open in the future. Today I am convinced that there is not a more effective way of crossing boundaries and broadening horizons than learning a foreign language. Even my arty side, which I’ve neglected for a long time, has been re-kindled by visits to theatres, music concerts and art galleries. I learnt to newly appreciate the world of the fine-arts, something that has been difficult in South Africa amidst the daily struggle for survival. I developed the skill to introduce myself and my country to other cultures and I acquired the self-confidence to realise that I as a South African can make a fresh contribution to the global community.

Approaching the whole experience holistically it becomes clear that it isn’t only about a German experience and a German course, but rather a voyage into the unknown, a curtain that slowly lifts, behind which unknown worlds of infinite possibility and adventure waits. An experience like this serves as motivation and gives the self-confidence that is needed to realise that everything is within reach and all of these treasures are only lying in wait of discovery.


Tuebingen South Africa Program 2010
March 2010


On a cold Tuesday morning in early January 2010,  a group of 23 young and very eager students from all over South Africa arrived in Tuebingen, Germany. This was to be the first time that any of us had been to Europe and also the  first experience of a typical German winter amongst other things.


My first pleasant observations about my new surroundings included the public transport system, appetizing food and friendly hospitality of the German people. The efficient and impressive public transport system facilitated my every need to get to any destination. It was clean and on-time always. The food was great and worth the wait. Experiencing the real deal instead of staring at pictures on lectures notes made the experience even better. This was further aided by the friendly and helpful German public. Strangers were keen to help me when need be and I always felt safe in any environment. This was also evident at the Tuebingen University who made my stay pleasurable and welcoming. These aspects were all part of my reason for being in Germany which  was to assimilate and interact with my beloved foreign language and culture.


My mission was to absorb and experience all the facets of the rich German culture. I was introduced to authentic German culture in many ways while improving on my German language skills. This included the creative arts that I enjoyed thoroughly. Firstly, we all attempted to make traditional Kässpatzler. It was tricky but the reward was well worth it. Our next task was the challenge of singing a variety of fun and traditional German songs. It seemed daunting at first but our group was quite merry and really diligent in achieving an audible renditon. My favourite time was when we relaxed and enjoyed the German movies which were a hit and humorous. Finally, everyone tried their hand at salsa and cha cha dancing. Many laughs were had and a bond between us and the German culture was fostering quickly and with a lot of enjoyment.


The more enriching and historical part of our journey included the inspiring and fascinating attractions. The Staatsgallerie and Hohenzollern castle were my top two highlights. The Staatsgallerie in Stuttgart houses awe-inspiring paintings and sculptures I had never imagined. I was privileged enough to view Johann Heinrich's artworks that were on display. The Castle of Hohenzollern is a glorious structure perched on top of a hill within a lush forest.


After all the sight seeing, we returned to Tuebingen for other unexpected suprises. It so happened that we were to meet the mayor of Tuebingen, Mr Boris Palmer. It was a delight and a honour. He enlightened us a little about Tuebingens history and seemed a very well-read man. He mentioned to us that we were in time for the much-loved carnival parade later in the month. We attended the Kiebingen carnival and the costumes, music, people and all-round festivities made it my most unforgettable night in Germany. They sure know how to celebrate and party. Unfortunately,the party came to an end and I bid farewell to gorgeous Germany.


I underwent growth and development in myself, in German culture and most importantly in my German speaking abilities in the precious time that I spent in Germany. The positive and educational impact will hold me in good stead in my future German studies. I would like to thank the Northwest University, University of Stellenbosch and all other companies or sponsors who supported this rewarding and prestigious program. I would also like to thank Lidia du Plessis, Barbara Owen and her team as well as the Potchefstroom Campus of the North-West University who made it possible for me to embrace and become enriched with the German culture.


With much appreciation and kind regards, Jo-Marie van Zyl


Jo-Marie van Zyl in the snow


Type in your language of choice!
15 February 2010

CTexT™ at the North-West University has once again completed software that will enable South Africans to use technology in the language of their choice.


CTexT (Centre for Text Technology), in collaboration with several linguistic partners, recently completed spelling checkers for nine South African languages, to be used in Microsoft® Office programmes such as Microsoft Word. These spelling checkers, along with the one for Afrikaans that forms a part of CTexT’s Afrikaanse SkryfGoed 2008, will help anyone who types in Afrikaans, isiNdebele, isiXhosa, isiZulu, Sesotho sa Leboa, Sesotho, Setswana, Siswati, Tshivenda or Xitsonga to better their writing by highlighting spelling errors and suggesting alternatives. Apart from recognising spelling errors, all these products also include hyphenators (which are most helpful for page layout by breaking up long words at the end of a line). The Afrikaans package (Afrikaanse SkryfGoed 2008) also includes a Grammar Checker and Thesaurus.


“By working in close collaboration with linguists at South African universities and the national language bodies, we developed spelling checkers that evaluate words according to the official orthography of each language. In addition, users can add new words to a custom dictionary, thereby expanding the recognition of the spelling checkers and accommodating the constant evolution of our languages and the specialised vocabulary of certain domains”, says Mr Martin Puttkammer, project leader of this ambitious project.


This is the only range of spelling checkers in South Africa that caters for ten of the official languages, while being based on extended research at a South African university.


The Spelling Checkers may be downloaded, at a minimal cost of R195, from www.spel.co.za. Licence options are also available for multiple computers.


German visit for student
25 October 2009


We are proud to announce that Ms Jo-Marie van Zyl, a first year student in German at the North West University, was selected as one of a small group of South African students to  participate in the Tübingen – South Africa Programme. This is a cultural and language programme which aims to expose South African students to the German culture and to bring about closer ties and understanding between the two countries.

The visit to Germany will last approximately one month in January 2010, during which time the students will participate in courses designed to provide a broad spectrum of knowledge in a wide variety of subjects, from German to History to Economics.


They will also visit various places of interest in Germany and get some first-hand experience of the German culture. It should be a wonderful opportunity for the students to learn more about the German language, be exposed to the culture and also experience more about the country as a whole.


Ms Van Zyl’s costs will be shared by the Baden-Würtemberg Government, the Tübingen University, the Stellenbosch University, Mr Weinand from Fa. Laepple and the North-West University. As the  Department of German we want to extend a hearty word of thanks to the institutions and persons contributing to the visit, especially the North-West University for making such experiences possible for our students. This certainly promotes our idea of the holistic education of students. 


The School of Languages

The School of Languages, housed in the Frans du Toit Bulding (E9), primarily offers training in language and literature, especially those of the following languages: Afrikaans and Dutch, German, English, French, Latin and Setswana (both as mother tongue and foreign language). Apart from this, courses are also offered in Creative Writing (the first university in SA offering it at under-graduate level), Language Technology (the only university in the country that offers comprehensive training and qualifications in human language technology at both undergraduate and post-graduate levels) as well as Translation and Interpreting Studies (in which interpreting and language editing are also incorporated).  The offer is, therefore, versatile and expanded. Multilingualism is, therefore, an important focus of the school. As a result the motto of the school is “My language, your language, our language”.  Apart from this the School also hosts the modules in Academic Literacy (AGLA/AGLE). The aim of these modules is to facilitate academic discourse and to prepare students to function on an academic level.  This has been very successful.

The staff of the School of languages are committed to their task  -  as lecturers (of the 36 academic staff members many have received awards for teaching, some more than once;  of  the 30 permanent staff members 13 have already attained their doctorate degree) and as researchers (five members of staff are NRF accredited researchers).  The research unit Languages and literature within the SA context collaborates closely with the school within the framework of the research unit.  The staff members publish regularly in academic periodicals and books, they write books and participate in and organize conferences, both nationally and internationally).  They are also involved in academic associations (as members, but also as members of the executive), with periodicals (as editors and as members of editorial boards), as experts (as members of committees, participants in radio programmes), and they serve the broader community on a variety of subjects).  Due to the international involvement of lecturers and researchers, many opportunities develop for students to apply for foreign bursaries and visits.  The school opens doors for students and empowers them to study and work effectively within the national and international contexts.

The School of Languages is also associated with prestigious institutions such as the ATKV  School for Creative Writing, which is housed within the Frans du Toit Building. The Centre for text Technology (CText), where a variety of language technological products have been developed, such as a grammar checker for Afrikaans and spell checkers for six SA languages (including Afrikaans, Setswana, isiZulu, isiXhoza) developed within the School.  The Centre for Academic and Professional Language Practice regularly offers short courses in a variety of interesting topics and languages.

The School of Languages is, therefore, associated with that for which one receives acknowledgement within the academic fraternity, such as quality of education by experienced and well-educated lecturers, quality research which makes a difference, and also service to society.

Prof. WAM Carstens



  • Director: Prof Wannie Carstens
  • Secretary: Mrs Marinda Moodie
  • Telephone: +27 18 299 1551
  • Fax: +27 18 299 1562
  • Internal mailbox 493, North-West University, Private bag X6001, Potchefstroom, 2520.
  • Where are we? E9 - Frans du Toit Building, Room 209.








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