|Photo: Courtesy of Nthabi Sibanda|
The use of mother tongue language in the family home and multi-lingualism in general are ongoing discussions worldwide. There are websites and organisations abound dedicated to both and they have become even more topical and pertinent now as the debate revolves around the preservation of language as a part of the preservation of culture.
In a world where the far-reaching influence of western languages have permeated every aspect of our lives from entertainment to education and that hybrid in between; Puo (a Sesotho word meaning “language”) is setting a standard in South Africa regarding the use of mother tongue languages across the entertainment and educational space.
Started by a dynamic woman who herself was raised in a bilingual home, the creator of Puo; Nthabiseng Sibanda, saw the large gap in educational and entertainment resources available for her IsiNdebele and Sesotho speaking child and thus the concept for Puo began. In the last of a series that has covered, writing children’s books and publishing African Children’s Literature , Wanderlust did a Q&A with the Founder and CEO of Puo Educational Products, a company set on making African languages fun for children.
Wanderlust: What spurred you into starting Puo?
I wanted my child to be able to speak her mother tongue because language is the window into a culture. I couldn’t fathom a situation where my child, growing up in South Africa, would be completely alienated from her language and culture simply because I hadn’t exposed her to it on any level.
The point of departure for Puo is two-fold: that children can be multi-lingual and the sooner they learn (up until the age of 7 years), the easier it is. Secondly, by making the learning of a language fun and part and parcel of one’s daily life, then it is that much easier to expose the child to a language.
But when I went looking for fun educational materials in the retail space, they were hard to come by and those that do exist alienate a contemporary techno-savvy child through storylines and illustrations of village settings [which urban kids find difficult to relate to]. So, I then embarked upon the journey of creating materials that connect children to the languages, cultures and history of Africa.
Wanderlust: What part of the creative process behind Puo has been;
a) the most challenging/difficult and b) the most fulfilling?
The most challenging has been the translation of materials into some of the languages. For example, Setswana is not standardized which means that opinions sometimes differ between a Motswana from Gaborone, Mafikeng, Pretoria, Bloemfontein on the translation of a word!
Puo has overcome this by using accredited translators who have also done work for the Department of Education, which allows us to speak with authority on the accuracy of the translation.
The most fulfilling has been parents calling, writing or approaching Puo to say they love our concept and want to see more products since they too have multi-lingual children. Also having parents say that the products have been of educational value to their children by teaching vocabulary, numeracy, etc.
Wanderlust: Where did you draw inspiration from?
Every day interactions with my children! Which is really the point of culture – that not only does it evolve but we should try not to compartmentalize it to certain geographic settings, e.g. visiting the village. So when Lulu (Nthabi’s daughter) loses a tooth, there’s inspiration, [as Africans we have our versions of the tooth-fairy, which then become a base to introduce other aspects of our culture, practices and even richer vocabulary] …Bedtime stories, [how do you begin?] Once upon a time – Ba re e ne’re… and so on. Puo seeks to weave our cultural practices and languages into our daily lives so that children’s lives are enriched by it.
Wanderlust: What is the future outlook for Puo?
To expand our current range into storybooks and other materials such as puzzles, games, etc., incorporate technology through our website, and reach families in the African diaspora where there’s a longing for materials that connect them to Africa.
Wanderlust: Who do you credit for the creation of Puo?
My parents for giving me a strong sense of self, despite having grown up mostly overseas; my husband for sharing in the vision where children don’t have to be alienated from Africa’s rich heritage and for supporting my business venture; and my children for being my inspiration and my guinea pigs…all in the name of fun!
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