Ugandans Need to Learn More Languages [editorial]

The Chinese say that even a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.

At Makerere University at the weekend, another major step was taken with the formal opening of the Confucius Institute, dedicated to the teaching of Mandarin, the language of the Chinese people.

This is an important development and more of us Ugandans need to embrace more languages than our mother tongues and English, the official language and medium of instruction. Languages, it has been said, are the key to the world but not many of us have aggressively tried to acquire these keys with a view to unlocking the opportunities that the world throws our way from time to time.

Languages such as French, German, Kiswahili are being taught but in many schools, they are only taken by a few students. In an ever-more globalised world, parents and teachers need to encourage children to value languages as a matter of principle.

The Chinese language, in particular, should be interesting to Ugandans. China has just become the world’s largest economy, overtaking the United States. And the Chinese presence in Africa has grown exponentially, with trade volumes growing from just $10bn to $200bn in fourteen years.

In Uganda, the Chinese seem to be everywhere – from retail and wholesale commerce, to buildings and infrastructural construction. Chinese imports to Uganda were worth around $540 million last year, although our exports to China were barely five per cent of that figure.

It is instructive that companies such as the telecoms giant MTN have put up billboards in Mandarin in Kampala. It may be premature to say – as some already have – that the future is Chinese what is certain is that the Chinese will have a much bigger say about that future than they have had about the past.

With that will come opportunities Mandarin – as well as other languages – does present keys to unlock such opportunities.

Source : The Observer

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