Why it’s important for students to be multilingual

Being multilingual can give children an academic advantage. File.

It used to be okay to speak just one language. But with the current pace for globalisation (education in particular), this is rapidly changing.

It has become necessary for one to have the ability to speak more than one language. These changes are framing what comprises a competent education platform; this is why many schools are putting emphasis on a curriculum that facilitates use of different languages, for it is of good cause for students to possess multilingual ability.

Rwanda is one of the countries in the sub-region that uses multiple languages; mainly, Kinyarwanda, English, French and Swahili.

The country embraced English as its language of instruction in schools, albeit many institutions offer many languages as subjects, giving the country a competitive advantage.

Due to the Competence Based Curriculum, Rwanda is in position to develop a multilingual educational policy that employs its national language, Kinyarwanda, alongside other languages such as Swahili and Spanish thus promoting literacy and nurturing multilingual students across the country. And, thereafter, supporting the country’s ability to generate a labour force fit for the international market.

Speaking to Education Times, Vanessa Gakuba, a high school graduate, says there are many advantages embedded in learning several languages, and calls to all students to value such opportunities.

“I can’t say I learnt English and French at the same level, but growing up, I wanted to be multilingual and communicate with different people from all walks of life. This is why I took it upon myself to learn both languages, I would always read French and English books at the same time,” she says.

As a result, a year just after her high school graduation, she was invited to different events as the master of ceremony and a translator.

Several studies show that being multilingual boosts cognitive memory and listening skills in young students.

Elias Kurgat, the head of career guidance at Nu-Vision High School, says that as many high-school leavers want to study abroad, and so their ability to speak different languages matters, as this will put them on the spot of admission in any country of their choice.

“Having the potential to speak more than three languages gives a student international and multi-cultural diversity and competitiveness. Young people, not just students, need to be global competitors to be able to connect with a range of networks and engage in environment interaction,” Kurgat says.

Joan Ndekezi, an aspiring poet, says knowing multiple languages is the foundation of building wisdom and knowledge, but learners must endeavour to understand those languages properly.

“Some bilingual students neither understand French nor English completely, but they claim to have studied in a bilingual system, which is very unfortunate,” she says.

She also believes that even though most of her poems are in English, she would love to do others in French, a dream that she is working on.

“Being able to express myself in different languages would be a dream come true, and I strongly believe that my work would be at another level,” she says.

Samantha Teta, a student at The University of British Columbia in Canada, says, “Speaking more than just your native language is a great way to exercise your brain and keep it in tip-top condition, especially if you consistently switch between the languages throughout your entire life.”


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