LALA = Learn an African Language App

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Jean-Paul Van Belle and Tessa Dowling

Lala means “lie down” in Zulu‚ and is also the acronym for a suite of Learn an African Language Apps suitable for Android devices. Tessa Dowling, senior lecturer in African languages in the School of Languages and Literatures at UCT,  and Jean-Paul Van Belle, of the Information Systems Department in the Faculty of Commerce at UCT, developed this new application.

Naomi Meyer asked Tessa Dowling: Kutheni nizenzile ezi apps na? Why did you develop this software (Why have you made these apps?)

Hi Tessa! Last year you ran a popular lecture titled “Xhosa in 45 minutes” at UCT. And now you’ve developed an African languages app. Firstly: Why?

Because 70% of South Africans speak an African language, but the anomaly is that in this country it is easier to get materials to learn French or even Russian than it is to get anything to help you learn Pedi (Northern  Sotho), for example. It is fascinating that Jean-Paul Van Belle, who developed the code for the app, is actually Flemish. But I suppose it makes sense, because he understands that English is not the only language in the world. Multilingualism is common in Europe; we have so many languages in Africa – we need to become positively multilingual again to break down barriers and work together.

Secondly: Is there really a quick fix to learning a language? What about a strong language foundation, grammar, etc?

There is no quick fix, but there is a slow repair – we have been damaged as South Africans by being cut off from one another linguistically. We can repair that damage by starting to greet people in their mother tongues, to compliment, to console, to show interest and respect.

Also: Is there a need for an app like this one?

Absolutely. There have already been 900 downloads and it is growing every day.  People from all over the world are using it – and they are letting us know how much they appreciate it!

I want to improve my own (very basic) Xhosa. But how do I progress beyond “How are you?” and “It’s hot today”? Will the app help me do so?

Yes – and it will give you more phrases than that – you will be able to talk about where you come from, chat about marital status, and you will learn how to compliment someone and ask some vital questions!

Where can I find the app and how does it work?

Download the free apps to your Android phone (or Android tablet) from the Samsung app store or the Google Play app store on or

For more information, visit:  LALA.asp.

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