Jan is a young lady working in one of the top organizations in Uganda. In the process of her carrier development, she applied for a job and was selected for an interview. During the interview she was asked to introduce herself in French because the recruiting organization gets in touch with French speaking customers. Actually, the recruiters wanted to assess her basics in French. “Comment vous appellez vous?” and “Quelle est votre nationalité?” were the two questions asked and…..she could neither understand nor answer any of them! Despite all the other criteria she fulfilled, she failed the interview and lost an opportunity to achieve her carrier development ambition.
Jan was one of my French students and she was narrating to me this story with sadness and regret. She remembered all the French classes she had missed and that morning when I asked her “comment vous appelez-vous?” she asked; “what does that mean?” I replied and she was shocked that she lost a job because she could not give her name in French.
Learning a foreign language can be very exciting and useful; not only for professional reasons but also for personal development.
Specialists in brain functioning have demonstrated that a person involved in learning a new language develops other competencies like social interaction, multicultural adaptation and the development of the left hemisphere in charge of controlling the language, logical thinking and calculations. Amazingly, when there are difficulties in understanding a new language, the right hemisphere steps in by developing musical, face recognition and spatial abilities. Can you imagine! The challenges you encounter in learning French for example can make you become more intelligent, creative and innovative.
The new approach for learning European languages put an emphasis on actions as the way to learn. You easily learn new words, sentence structures and grammar by practicing a real life activity with peer learners: this is called action-approach. Therefore learning a new language helps you develop result-based activities and also enable you to enrich your CV with the learned competencies.
Learning French for example could help you identify yourself with the French community; your opportunities to learn from French documents, translate and communicate are empowered; you also benefit from the cultural diversity of the foreign language. I remember a story of a young lady who was dating a French speaking guy but she had difficulties in communicating with the man’s relative because she did not have the basics in French. She had to take French classes to save this marriage opportunity and also to identify with the man’s family.
When I came to Uganda, I was glad I could communicate in English, but with time I noticed that I needed the basics in Luganda (spoken in the central region) to adjust to some challenges like price bargain. Actually I realized that when I bargained even in broken Luganda, prices were lower than when I did it in English. The sellers knew I was a foreigner and they appreciate the effort I made to identify with them through language.
There is much to say on the topic! Start somewhere! Continue from where you are in your learning process and feel free to look for help when necessary. You can also share your motivations and the challenges you face in learning a foreign language like French in a French club. To enrich your vocabulary on a specific domain, for example the restaurant, go in a restaurant and write in French in your notebook what you see; then construct at least three sentences with the new words you’ve just learned… A better way is to identify a French native family or friend with whom you will spend time for communication around a specific activity.
I remember how I learned some words in regard to the kitchen and some dishes. My wife and I visited a family friend in Kampala. The husband enjoys cooking (which is a miracle according to his wife!) and I had to join him at the kitchen to have a discussion with him. What a wonderful time it was! I learned a lot of words on kitchen materials in Luganda and it was the same for him on French words. We also shared about the differences and similarities on spices, dishes and feeding habits between Cameroon and Uganda. Unfortunately that day I did not write the new words in a notebook and presently…. I have forgotten everything…! But the method is learnt and I can repeat it as much as I need to memorize the words leant.
You can do the same on activities like playing football, playing scrabble, watching a movie, plan a trip or a party… Give room to your imagination and you’ll be amazed at how fast you’ll improve in your Language competences.
Key words: Cross-Culture;Development; Identity; Language.
By Hervé-Boris Ngaté, Masters Intercultural Studies