Language barrier | Opinions 2015-02-22
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Opinions of Sunday, 22 February 2015

Columnist: Amponsem, Joshua

Language barrier

I would like to share how language barriers in education can be solved and how best African institutions can go far with languages.

First of all, African institutions basically teach with English and French. These two languages are, to me, the most important languages in Africa right now. If you can speak English or French, there is a probability of you working or living in a higher percentage of places in the African continent and other parts of the world. However, it is very difficult for the African child and youth to understand or come to a consensus in conversation, argument and discussion when using these two languages. The youth can express themselves and make meaning out of diverse and complex situations when discussed in their local dialect. In my opinion, this has been the major failure of many intelligent Africans when given the opportunity to express or exhibit their intelligence and talent at international fronts.

In view of this, I think African institutions should respect their local languages and teach with it in early institutional stages. I believe this will enable our young ones understand what they are being thought and also express themselves to comprehend the full knowledge of the knowledge being given to them. This will as well allow teachers at the elementary level to know their students interest. However, in situations where pupils are being taught solely in other languages aside their local dialect or native language at basic levels, there is the likelihood that kids who do not understand what is being taught cannot ask questions nor make contributions.

When you travel to Germany to study as a foreigner, there are programmes that requires you to learn and understand German before you can even apply. This is because tutors of these programmes can teach these courses best in their native language. If we adopt the method of teaching with both local languages and international languages, it will create more room for improvement. Chinese and Japanese are often seen working in Africa when it comes to road construction and other architectural jobs although they are not enable to speak our languages. The simple lesson is that, they are employed because they are experts in their field of work regardless of their ability to speak in english or french. If we are able to learn, understand and apply, it will not matter what language we speak, we can go far just like how other foreigners are making it on our lands.

However, for the African youth to impact in global change, we must be prepared to understand problems and solutions in other languages but basically English or French. In 2007 and 2010, the highest spoken languages in the world was ranked Mandarin (14.1%), Spanish (5.85%), English (5.52%), then French was ranked 18th with a percentage of 1.12%. From this analysis, not more than 10% of the world’s population speak the two most internationally taught and spoken languages in Africa. It is very good to be fluent in English and French since it is widely acceptable in most places irrespective of its global coverage. However, we must adopt the habit of respecting all languages and make an effort to learn different languages that are highly spoken in other parts of the world (Hindi, Japanese, Chinese, Spanish, Dutch, Arabic, etc.). We are always reluctant to learn different languages when we become fluent speakers of English or French and that, I think, is a bad habit.

For us to travel to many places and exhibit our talent and intelligence, we must learn and comprehend our disciplines through our local dialects and have the ability to explain and translate what we have learned in many other ways.

Joshua Amponsem.
Executive Director,
Green Africa Youth Organization.
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