Tech platform Vambo Academy helps you learn local languages

Is one of your New Year’s resolutions to learn a local language? A new tech platform, designed by a master’s student at UCT, offers the opportunity to do just that, while also learning about the culture associated with particular languages.

Vambo Academy (“vambo” means “origin” in chiShona) was the result of Chido Dzinotyiwei’s effort to teach Shona – the 25-year-old Zimbabwean-born’s native language – to children that she babysat during a gap year between her honours and master’s degrees.

Speaking to News24, Dzinotyiwei said that there has certainly been a spike in adults wanting to learn new languages. With Vambo Academy, she hopes to address this need, with the languages people want to learn often corresponding with a person’s geographical location.

“They want to learn a language based on where they live, so adults based in the Western Cape want to learn isiXhosa. In Pretoria, people want to learn Setswana. The most popular languages are isiZulu and isiXhosa,” Dzinotyiwei said.

Vambo Academy uses Zoom, the video conferencing platform that gained popularity after the Covid-19 pandemic struck, as an online learning tool.

Since launching in August 2021, Vambo Academy has presented close to 300 lessons. Aspiring language learners can choose between three options: free chats (R100 a session), one-on-one lessons (R180 a session) and group lessons (R140 a session). Every option includes a 45-minute lesson, which is offered daily.

All of South Africa’s official languages (excluding English) can be learnt with Vambo Academy, along with chiShona and isiNdebele, which are spoken in Zimbabwe. The Vambo Academy website indicates that Kiswahili will also be on offer soon. The platform features a personal online dashboard from which one’s progress can be tracked.

What has made Vambo Academy stand out among other language learning platforms is the way in which cultural heritage forms a central part of its teaching strategy. In one review featured on the website, student Veneka Paradza expresses this sentiment, saying: “Vambo Academy learning has taught me more than just the language. I have gotten an amazing cultural experience and learnt so much about what it means to be Shona.”

To sign up and learn a new language with Vambo Academy, click here.


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