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Beijing Foreign Studies University has set up a Zulu department

A Chinese University has set up a Zulu department officially promoting the language as a programme offered at undergraduate level thus strengthening ties between the two countries.



The Beijing Foreign Studies University is now offering Zulu as one of the programmes in their South East Asia and African studies and has launched the first Zulu-Chinese textbook and dictionary to contribute to the development of the South African language.

One of the lecturers appointed to teach it at the University, Mthuli Buthelezi said in a statement that, “The Zulu textbook is intended for the Chinese students who are learning Zulu as an additional language. The textbook can also be used by Zulu-speaking students who are learning Chinese.”

“The textbook comprises sections of grammar, vocabulary and sections on texts,” Buthelezi said, adding that the latter appeared in narrative and dialogue formats.

“The vocabulary section is a word list that shows the categorisation, the noun classes and the definition of words. The texts are written in a relatively ‘simpler language’ and they are a reflection of the grammar points of each unit of the textbook”.


Speaking on the importance of the dictionary Buthelezi said, “This dictionary can also be used by Zulu-speaking students who are learning Chinese. The dictionary is written in Zulu, English and Mandarin”.

“The Zulu words and their definitions appear with their direct Chinese translation equivalents. The dictionary is primarily characterised by the inclusion of modern Zulu words used in society, their language classification [verb, noun or adjective] and their meaning.

Read: China-Africa: A New Accord

“The development of Zulu in China is a watershed moment. This development is the preservation of the language and this also strengthens diplomatic relations,” he said.

“The communication and the exchange of language are the communication and exchange of both culture and education. The exchange of language will not only spawn the expansion of Zulu, but will also foster healthy relations between China and South Africa”.


Buthelezi, who has a Master’s degree in linguistics, joined the University a few months before the university introduced the programme.

“There has been a move to have indigenous languages at academic institutions. In 2014, the University of KwaZulu-Natal started a programme to compel all its students to have Zulu as one of their subjects before they graduate.

“What we are doing in China is a great progress in making Zulu an academic language. It is not just a colloquial language,” Buthelezi said.

He said ultimately, the university desired to teach all the indigenous languages spoken in SA. “They are starting with Zulu, because it is the most spoken among the indigenous languages,” he said.

He added that the difference with Zulu taught in China as opposed to other countries is that, “They teach the scientific aspect of Zulu. They teach about the morphology of the language. It is taught as a science. In China students are being taught the language so that they can speak the language.”