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Language learning for health, safety and life
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Language learning for health, safety and life

As governments attempt to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in local communities and countries, it is vital that they communicate to citizens in languages that people in different segments of the society speak and understand. Metolo Foyet, a 23-year-old Commonwealth Correspondent from Cotonou, Benin, shares her experience with language learning when she was growing up. She argues that young people should be taught both native and global languages to equip them for life.  

What type of student were you in secondary or high school? Were you the odd child who did not associate with cliques because the subjects of their conversation did not fit your interests? Perhaps, you were the explorer who spent time with the kindergarten’s inhabitants or the library’s dwellers? Whichever of these peculiar kids you were, I was all of them. I even made many new friends among the children in the nursery.

I needed to be a kid again, to win what had been a long-overdue battle: speaking my dialect. You may ask why I waited until secondary school to learn my native language. The answer is that I was content with knowing a global language and did not see the urgency of knowing my native language until I was backed in a corner.

My inability to communicate in my local dialect would become both paralyzing and painful when I could not protect and support a sick parent without stammering and making a joke of myself.

I could not contribute to a discussion held in public by members of my community; some of whom found it satisfying to mock what is widely known in African settings as a “handicap”.  These experiences have always reminded me of how important it is for a child to be able to communicate using his or her native language.

This competence is especially relevant to third culture kids (TCKs) who have spent a significant part of their developmental years living outside of their parents’ native countries and cultures. Some TCKs may not identify with their native culture and may even forget their native language.

Although I believe it is important for these children to learn their native language, it is equally important for children who speak local and national languages to also learn a globally accepted language.

I have taught French as a volunteer in places where the language barrier has been a major issue for young people. In one area where communities spoke different dialects; students were taught in local languages instead of English.

The teachers explained that they were simply following the policy established by the country’s national education body. But, how could they decide that students in remote areas should be taught in their respective local languages whilst the national examinations were written in English? Worst, students in central cities were taught in English although their cities also had their own local languages.

I could not get my head around this policy. It was putting the students in villages (some of whom had brilliant minds) at a disadvantage because most could not speak, understand, write or read English, the language in which the national exam was written. As a result, these students tended to perform poorer on a national scale.

To assist these students with their global language skills, my colleague and I tried to engage the students by cracking jokes in class, giving short quizzes and allowing the students to ask questions, even personal ones that would help them in the school of life. We also had to learn the basics of their dialects and often involved members of the community who could speak English to smoothen the process.

Children should never be disadvantaged because they do not have the language competencies they need to successfully manage their lives, socialize, and pursue their dreams. Let’s not wait for a crisis to equip ourselves and our children with both native and global languages.

Photo Credit: The Commonwealth’s Asset Bank

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About me:  I have a keen interest in using research and policy to spur innovative solutions to the environmental and social problems we face. Academically and professionally, my focus has been on Politics, International Relations, Security and Environmental Studies. I strongly believe Africa’s ills are linked to poor resource governance and that the sustainable management of the continent’s human, natural and capital resources will solve many of our problems.

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?

To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/commonwealthcorrespondents/………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

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