It’s no secret that most job advertisements today will carry a line suggesting that knowledge of certain languages is an added advantage. This aside, anyone who has travelled beyond their country’s borders will attest to the benefits of being able to speak many languages.
One such confession came from Eric Munyaneza, a businessman based in Kigali, who says being able to speak Kiswahili and French, in addition to Kinyarwanda and English has made his transactions across the East African region easy.
Numerous studies also show that being multilingual boosts cognitive, memory, and listening skills in children.
Research also shows that people who speak a foreign language often enjoy better career prospects and higher standards of living. In fact, a recent research from the University of Chicago suggests that a second language also helps prevent dementia later in life.
So as parents prepare for the new academic year, Education Times explores why opting for a multilingual school comes with innumerable benefits.
In Rwanda, English is the most used language of instruction. However, French is taught as a subject in some schools. But Rwanda has the potential to develop a multilingual educational policy that employs its national language, Kinyarwanda, alongside other languages such as Kiswahili, Spanish and Chinese, among others, to promote literacy and multilingual students in schools.
Such an education reform would promote Rwanda’s participation in contributing to the international labour market for local graduates and interns.
But despite the advantages embedded in learning several languages, many parents remain unaware of the importance of taking their children to multilingual schools and, therefore, students later miss out on the benefits of learning in a multilingual setting.
Timothy Izihirwe, who works with Give Directly under the United Aids Development-USAID, says that some UN missions like the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and World Food Programme require one to have knowledge of two languages among French, Arabic, Spanish, English, and Russian (normally called the UN languages).
“This alone shows that not being able to communicate in many languages is a precursor for missing top world job opportunities. I think parents should prepare for the better tomorrow for their children by taking them to schools that teach more than three languages,” he says.
Paul Mbaraga, a lecturer at University of Rwanda’s School of Journalism and Communication, emphasises the need for students to be able to communicate in the three official languages recognized by the Constitution, that is, French, English and Kinyarwanda.
“Exposing students to be able to communicate in more than three languages effectively opens to them opportunities beyond Rwanda,” he says.
Joyce Kirabo, a social counselor based in Kigali, says the most important benefit of learning multiple languages is that it gives one international and multi-cultural diversity and competitiveness.
“Children need to be global competitors to be able to live in a wide range of networks and environment interaction. And to be that they need to know more than three languages,” she says.
Sharon Ingabire, a librarian at Kacyiru public library says, knowing many languages is the foundation to knowing and understanding different cultures.
She emphasizes that many books harbour great wisdom and knowledge but because people can’t read them, they miss out on the information in those writings.
Muhame Kagonyera, a parent based in Kigali, says multi-lingual schools should be promoted, but points out that the ones in place are too expensive for most parents who are low income earners.
“However, those who have capacity to do so need to let their children explore chances of multilingualism. They will only be able to understand their own culture and languages if they are exposed to other languages,” he says.
Kutlu Oya, a project officer at Welthungerhilfe, a non-profit organisation operating in Rwanda, confesses that he has benefitted immensely from knowing many languages.
“I studied in English in high school, Turkish at an undergraduate level and in French at post-graduate level. Knowing more than one language is not just grammar but is also about removing prejudices among the students.
“Students from different races and backgrounds tend to be united by a common language and hardly judge each other based on diversity among them,” she notes.
On the other hand, Adelphine Mukamanzi, a community relations officer at a school in Ontario Canada, says languages are a serious consideration when it comes to job recruitment in Canada.
“For a job seeker to get a job in the Canadian Federal Government, for instance, one must be able to speak and write in English and French fluently. Most top positions are won by someone who understands those two languages well and it’s always an added advantage when someone can speak more than those two languages,” he says.
Toni Martirez, a communication officer at Health Development Initiative Rwanda, who had her high school studies in Kenya, shared with Education Times the benefits of learning many languages.
“In Kenya they teach in Kiswahili, English and French alongside other local languages, which has boosted Kenya’s literature. Through this Kenya has managed to nurture many prominent writers in the region and globally,” she says.
For Brenda Indekwe, a young poet, knowing multiple languages is the foundation of building wisdom and knowledge, but learners must endeavor to understand those languages properly.
“Some bilingual students neither understand French nor English but they claim to have studied in a bilingual system, which is very unfortunate,” she says.
Jean-Paul Cyubahiro, a teacher at Ndangaburezi Secondary School located in Nyanza District , says learning many languages does not only have the good impact on the children’s performance but it also helps them to have stable mental health, especially in memorising what they are taught and improving their attention span.
“Students who learn many languages tend to have quick thinking and don’t forget easily,” he says.
According to American author Ronald Kotulak, a new language is one of the most rewarding experiences for anyone, but even more so at a young age.
“During the first three years of life, the foundations for thinking, language, visions, attitude, aptitude, and other characteristics are laid down. It would be a waste not to use a child’s natural ability to learn during his or her most vital years when learning a second language,” he says
Kotulak notes that some of the most crucial benefits of being bilingual are that a child’s focus, memory, planning and multitasking skills are better than if they are monolingual.
“Children can also ignore distractions easier because the part of their brain called the “executive function” is stronger in bilinguals, and this of course would benefit their academic performance in the classroom.”
A study conducted in Spain showed that polyglots, or multilingual people, have alert and keen minds. They easily spot anything that is irrelevant or deceptive. The study was conducted comparing multilingual and monolingual subjects; and the former notably had the edge. The discipline that they developed in studying an unknown subject has molded them to become more perceptive. Thus, they learn to be critical-thinkers.
Hellen Nomujuni, programme officer at Health Initiative Development
Knowing many languages helps one to interact and associate with people from diverse backgrounds. For example, when one relocates abroad, or they are offered an international job, knowledge of another langauge is very helpful.
Peter Safari, a post graduate student at mount Kenya University
Learning many languages helps a student after completion of studies to have access to many job opportunities. Many job advertisements indicate that companies prefer hiring multi-lingual personnel.
Grace Nyinawumuntu, a student at university of Tourism, Technology and Business Studies
Learning multiple languages presents opportunities in the tourism sector. Working in this sector requires one to know many languages since you deal with people from different walks of life. Therefore, parents must understand that taking their children to multi-lingual schools is good.
Gracieuse Uwadata, journalist
When students learn many languages they become confident in whatever they do and their adaptability is at a higher level compared to those who studied one language. Generally people who know only one language are conservative and find it hard to adapt to new situations.