Increase club activities to attain proficiency in the English language

A student during a debate. / File

Anybody who left Rwanda in 2009 would be fascinated by the growth of the English language in the country. Some Rwandans, today, can speak English almost with the agility and proficiency of a native - something quite commendable given the recent transition from francophone to Anglophone.

Even so, there is still great room for improvement. The problem, though, is that this is a little difficult in institutions of higher learning because of the time allotted for it. Most universities only offer English once per week to the students, which does not promote the practice and reinforcement of the language. If they are taught English for three hours, say on a Monday, they will have the same opportunity again after a week, a gap during which they rarely use English. This hitch can be solved by dynamic English club activities that give students a chance to practice English in a relaxed, informal environment.

English clubs come in many different guises. What they do all have in common, however, is that they provide an opportunity for English language learners to practice using English in a relaxed and friendly setting. Practicing their skills in the classroom is important, but it is not like real life. In the classroom, you often focus on one skill and one item (for example: grammar — future tense). After learning the rules the teacher gives time to practice using the item. In this time, they have their papers in front of them and the rules are fresh in their mind. Will they remember how to use these skills next week, or next year?

Within the club, you can vary activities depending on the language needs of the members. Some of the common activities can be debates, impromptu speeches, dialogues guided by a prompt, book summaries, picture descriptions, and poetry slams, among others. You can also create online discussion boards on social networks like WhatsApp with interesting topics that would elicit discussions. The goal is to allow as much interaction as possible in the target language within an environment that does not feel like a classroom. If the group is too big and you want to do a debate for example, break it into smaller groups and give them different topics.

For this to work well for varsity students, you must include fun. Now fun and enjoyment are elusive qualities. They happen when people are not looking for them. Regarding English clubs, it is almost impossible to predict in advance whether the activities planned will ‘click’ or not. Like a good teacher, an English club moderator should be flexible and intuitive, abandoning activities that fall flat, and embracing the spontaneous and unplanned.

The underlying concept is that anyone, at any age, can acquire new languages, given time, motivation, and a conducive setting for language acquisition and practice. Meeting students once a week as is the schedule in most university undermines the practical aspect in the acquisition of the language. If English cannot be scheduled three times a week, the clubs that promote it must be made functional.


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