JOHANNESBURG – At the age of seven, Chido Dzinotyiwei moved to neighboring South Africa with her family. While in the rainbow nation, she grew up speaking English and Zulu, to the neglect of her native Shona language.
She recalls the times she traveled with her parents back to Zimbabwe to visit relatives and how she struggled to communicate in Shona, which is the dominant language in the Southern African country.
“When I was young, I could grasp English and isiZulu at school, but it became difficult to speak Shona when I went back home to visit because my vocabulary and accent were off. Fortunately, I had old Shona books and started reading and reminding myself of the language. Before I knew it, I was fluent in my home language again,” she told City Press.
According to Dzinotyiwei, her inability to communicate in her native language frustrated her as she felt she was losing a part of her identity and culture.
Aside from her, she later discovered that there are so many people like her dotted across Africa who cannot speak their local languages due to urbanization and emigration.
In the case of Zimbabwe, she notes that economic upheavals since 1990 have compelled many Zimbabweans to pour into South Africa and further abroad in search of greener pastures.
This means that several Zimbabweans and other nationals have not had the chance to become proficient in the language of their parent’s birthplace.
Her frustration over her inability to speak Shona led Dzinotyiwei and fellow Zimbabwean, Dorcas Kwaramba, to launch Vambo Academy.
The platform is an educational technology (EdTech) platform that uses digital resources to offer language learning, translation, and knowledge services. Vambo teaches indigenous languages online and offers a dictionary, blog posts, and podcasts on cultural topics.
So far, the platform offers 10 languages spoken in South Africa, Lesotho, and Swaziland, as well as two of Zimbabwe’s most dominant languages, Shona and Ndebele. For now, the platform is web-based.
Vambo offers unique features that leading language teaching platforms do not have, like face-to-face tutorials with a human teacher, instead of a robot.
“It’s not just automated. You can actually sit [virtually] with a local, book a session, and speak about nuances around the language or something you want to learn,” Dzinotyiwei told La Prensa Latina.
However, the founders are working around the clock to develop an app that will mimic language teaching platforms like Duolingo, Memrise, and Babbel.
Currently, Vambo’s main market is in South Africa, but Dzinotyiwei and her team hope to expand it to include more languages across the continent of Africa.
Since launching Vambo, the platform has offered 650 lessons. It offers one-on-one or group sessions with a fee of $10 per lesson for 45 minutes.