Still spreading the word at 86

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Durban – Ivy Cele may be 86 years old, but age has never slowed her down in any way.

The Clermont author and academic was a guest at the recent Durban Book Fair with her beginner’s language book Isizulu: Khuluma Isizulu Nesingisi, Speak Isizulu and English, which also offers an audiotape for pronunciation.

Cele has had a long and distinguished career in teaching languages and African culture and is fluent in isiZulu, Swazi and English and has a smattering of other languages, such as Portuguese.

Born in Mariannhill and educated at the Catholic mission, St Francis College, Cele said she enjoyed languages from an early age. After leaving school in the 1950s, she started her career by graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Unisa (University of South Africa) and started teaching.

As well as teaching in SA, she took up positions as school principal in Swaziland and was a mentor at Inservice Teacher Education in Zimbabwe.

She went on to complete a Master’s degree in education from Syracuse University in New York, as well as doing additional graduate study at Northwestern University and the University of Chicago.

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Ivy Cele sharing her love of isiZulu in the United States in 1993

Although she taught both isiZulu and English, her love for her home language also saw her taking up the position of visiting lecturer at Elgin Community College in the US as their 1993/1994 Visiting Foreign Scholar – where she was teaching when Nelson Mandela was released.

“When we got independence, I watched it on TV.

“I enjoyed teaching at Elgin, and the Americans enjoyed learning isiZulu and with a bit of practice, got the clicks,” said Cele, who cast her first vote at the embassy in Chicago.

When she returned to South Africa, she lectured at Wits University and the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

She also spent time as a visiting scholar at the Temple University of Japan, saying Japanese was “a very difficult language, it is both horizontal and vertical“.

Looking at current education, Cele said teachers should be encouraged to read because that would help to improve the quality of teaching in the country.

“It’s preferable that children learn in their own language for the first two years at school, but it’s also important to note that children often become multi-lingual when they play with other children who speak a different language. Language is never a barrier for children on the playing field,” she said, adding that learning a language should be fun.

Now in retirement, Cele has held many workshops and training sessions as well as facilitating sign language workshops at her local library.

Having gone through a year of Covid-19, Cele has also been writing short stories and has been looking at teaching online using Zoom – with the help of her sister Gertie, 82, who is the techno specialist of the pair.

With regard to her isiZulu beginners book, Cele said she would also like to encourage employers to distribute the book to staff to encourage the learning of isiZulu. The book focuses on conversational skills, as well as language structure.

“Language is all about communication between people which is why I enjoy languages,” she said.

For more information about purchasing the book, email khuluma.isizulu@gmail.com

Independent on Saturday

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