“I am both happy and angry. In fact, inside me, I cry and laugh at the same time. You know French is a language I admire most, but I do not like the French. That is why I feel both disappointed and at the same shedding crocodile tears”, says a retired teacher of 67 years.
When it was announced that French language would start being taught as a subject, and not as a means of communication when teaching other subjects, many Rwandans received the idea with mixed feelings.
Of course, the reaction was expected since language holds much in society especially when it has been used for long.
“French is going to be taught as a subject while other subjects will be taught in English, said the Rwanda’s state minister for education Theoneste Mustindashyaka.
But why should we be bothered by foreign languages in Rwanda? It is because language is very important in any society. Social changes produce changes in language.
This affects values in ways that have not been accurately understood. Language incorporates social values.
However, social values are only the same as linguistic values when the society is a stable and unchanging one. Once society starts changing, then language change produces special effects, hence need for great concern of languages.
Rwandan children have had to endure problems of learning foreign languages almost at an equal footing. In most cases however, it has not been possible to grasp the two properly, since either French or English would dominate depending on the school’s interest and history.
The new developments will see our children and the general society benefit in a number of ways, among which are:
One, the peoples of Rwanda are no longer going to view themselves as either Franco-phone or Anglo-phone.
You know this has been a very dangerous dichotomy that has had far-reaching negative effect on the country’s reconciliation efforts.
The division could be traced even at the family level, where couples disagreed due language differences. A man may be an ‘Anglophone’ when a woman is a ‘Franco-phone’, which is a difference enough to tear the family apart.
These have been silent, but vivid experiences in Rwanda, which hampered efforts to reconcile our people.
In the world of scholars, it has been worse, with one group claiming to be smarter than the other in various fields. Students could make prejudiced choice of teachers and fail subjects, just because they admired either of the two. This is going to be history.
When we take a cost benefit analysis, we shall find that the move is also cheap in all spheres. When we are to import books, we shall need to go for one language unlike in the past when we were buying books written in English and French at the same time. This was very expensive.
Students were also finding it difficult to access schools of their choice just because of language barrier.
Say, if a student studied in a primary school that used only French, he or she would not be accommodated in an English speaking school and vice versa.
This is going to change. All Rwandan children will have access to all schools in the country without any language barrier.
Two, the decision to have one language as a media of communication in education, reminds us of an important thing; that we are principally Rwanda-phone. Let no body be bothered by any foreign language, but our mother tongue.
How much do we care for our own language? This is our big challenge! Africans have been full of praises for foreign languages and yet they have worked against them.
What has the French and the language, helped us in Rwanda for example, to deserve respect. Nothing but disaster-which is why, its partial alienation has been long over due.
That is why one should agree with a Kenyan teacher, novelist, essayist, and playwright, Ngugi, whose works function as an important link between the pioneers of African writing and the younger generation of postcolonial writers.
In fact, Ngugi wrote in his book Decolonizing the Mind, that, “African writers should express themselves in indigenous languages in order to reach the African masses”. Ngugi was absolutely correct, we need to value our languages more than the foreign ones.
And in situations where a foreign language does not benefit us any more we don’t have to remain hostages.
Today, the language you would need most to meet your technological and economic aspirations is English.