English, as a global language linking millions of people all over the world, is taken as a universal communication conduit. The truth is witnessed by successful people, in every walk of life and in every part of the world, who travel the globe for a wide array of reasons and use English as the communication tool.
According to United Nations Education Scientific and cultural Organization (UNESCO), approximately 330 to 360 million people speak English as their first language, more than half of these (231 million) live in the United States, followed by some 60 million in the United Kingdom which is the first place where English was spoken. English is the third largest language by number of native speakers, after Mandarin and Spanish.
English speaking is a vital skill that one should always strive for in case one needs to be an efficient communicator, need to enhance networking with the rest of the world, to be exposed, etc. Undoubtedly, any area that is worth working eventually deserves the person to know an international language such as English.
Transitioning from Francophonism (French speaking) to Anglophonism (English speaking) can help you understand why university of Rwanda students still lag behind in speaking, writing or listening to English from which we would be much unfair to compare ourselves with some of our neighbors who have been in Anglophonic system right from the colonial times.
In spite of the inauguration of English as a medium language of academic instruction in Rwandan education programs, there are still pretexts that hinder us from amelioration. Some develop excuses of inadequate expertise due to a French background. But on a closer scrutiny, many are bogged in their reluctance to learn and stagnating in their comfort zones. It is rare to find students challenging themselves in reading at least an English article, a novel or simply a book in pursuit of improving their language mastery, and that’s what I call “reluctance to learn”. Every language is learned by power of practicing, listening, writing and most outstandingly speaking. Due to lack of confidence in speaking what one knows coupled with a desire to be perfect (which is hard to achieve instantly) culminate into fearing to speak as one may not satisfy the expectations of the public as a university student. However, when one tries, it is so undermining when the public laughs at them upon a mistake made or poor performance. Consequently, a multitude of students simply use Kinyarwanda in which they feel to be eloquent and comfortable at unlike communication in a foreign language regarded as pride, bragging and do not consider to be worth the candle.
Is language learned or born with?
A very famous saying goes; “Even a journey of a thousand starts with a single step”. This can better disapprove the belief that there are people born with a gift of English speaking, listening and writing while others cannot make it no matter how hard they try. This unfortunate belief certainly explains why students concentrate more on excelling with high marks in class while ignoring participation in debating clubs and other public speaking platforms like Toastmasters which offer immense opportunities for anyone who is ready to grab them.
Being born in a non-English speaking or not having a conducive environment should not become a hurdle to someone eager to learn English. In fact all competent personnel in any field are not from English speaking countries as their origin. Author Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers says that it takes roughly ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field. Putting aside talent, the need to practice in order to achieve excellence is vital.
Upon trust the world has in Rwandans on how the nation was rebuilt from scratch, it would not be a surprise having Rwandans in eminent positions worldwide making decisions on behalf of the rest in years to come. This can only happen when the young generation decides not to accept mediocrity and move out of their comfort zone by committing to acquiring English skills so as to be as competitive as others worldwide.
The world is moving at a very high pace in all domains which reflects well in collaborations and networking internationally. English as a global language plays a key role in connecting people in all fields. It would be a shame for a leader who is well equipped with ideas and several earned degrees but unable to air ideas out. What about that brilliant and clever engineer who lacks skills to bargain and make deals with a foreign investor over a language barrier that can be learned and practiced!
The writer is a student at the University of Rwanda in the College of Medicine and Health sciences