Change the world


“We speak and think in our home language. When we are unable to express or explain something in English, the language we fall back on is our home language,” said Tintswalo Sambo, who recently graduated with a master’s degree in applied language studies at Mandela University’s autumn graduation.


Tintswalo’s study focused on translation studies, highlighting the importance of learners using their mother tongue languages to help them improve their learning and understanding.

Her master’s thesis titled: “The challenges of translating mathematical terminologies from English to Xitsonga,” examined the accuracy of translating one to the other and identified challenges of this translation.

“The importance of my research is that it raises an awareness of how indigenous languages are still at a disadvantage when it comes to having their own scientific terminologies and also highlights the need to combine English, as well as learners’ home language to achieve the desired outcome,” said Tintswalo.

Combining English and a learner’s home language was one of the research findings, as well as the need to involve term developers and professionals in the translation of mathematical and scientific learning materials.

Her interest in investigating this topic stemmed from her experience as a mathematical facilitator and educator assistant, where she witnessed learners struggle to comprehend mathematics when taught in English only.

“Hence my research is centred around mathematical terminologies, because maths is an important subject, and its many terms need to be thoroughly understood before solving a mathematical problem,” explained Tintswalo. 

Tintswalo’s interest in linguistics was nurtured at a young age by her schoolteacher parents, who encouraged her to read, and she would fast become a book worm and developed a love for literature and teaching.

The lack of exposure from her small township of Nkowankowa in the Limpopo Province did not deter Tintswalo, thanks to her English teachers who honed her communication skills, which would be central in her research.

Her communication and interpersonal skills were further sharpened during her stint as secretary and president of one of the University’s societies, Wells of Life Campus Ministry.

“After completing my honours degree, I worked for a company called HeyMath, as a Xitsonga translator and facilitator, an experience which strengthened my translation skills,” said Tintswalo.

Tintswalo hopes that her research will spark further conversation about how learning in one’s mother tongue will break language barriers and intends on enrolling for a doctorate to explore this topic further.

“My dream job is to be more than just a Xitsonga translator, to also promote and preserve indigenous languages, form part of language boards, which contribute to new knowledge, and be part of the team that assesses education curriculum, language policies, and terminology development,” Tintswalo added.

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Contact information
Ms Elma de Koker
Internal Communication Practitioner
Tel: 041-504 2160