Education Language Barriers and Economic Development.


Language barriers and economic development.

By: Prof. M Y Sukkar, Nile University, Sudan.

In this fast moving world, where Globalization has dominated many aspects of life, the question of learning foreign languages has become not only an issue, but a necessity. In particular, English has become the main language of international communication. It was really heartwarming to listen to the fluent speech of our Prime Minister addressing the Freedom of the Press Forum at the United Nations and seeing the positive response of those present.

Many African and Asian countries have made economic and social development breakthroughs. These countries developed education systems compatible with international standards.They forged relations with international trading and industrial companies, through competent leadership and management having good command of English or any other internationally spoken language.

Let us not be deterred in this effort by the notion that learning of English will be done at the expense of learning the Arabic language; it will not. We have hundreds of examples of Sudanese scholars and authors who have contributed to Sudanese literature, history, law and science, both in English and Arabic.

Some say leaning English will diminish or lead to neglecting our national culture including our social and religion related beliefs and values. These notions have been spread by extremism or traditional leaderships who focus on nationalism, outdated traditions and some religious sects’ indoctrinations – all of which lead to a closed society suspicious of innovations; and practices that have nothing to do with the true values of society- such as the resistance to women’s education and abolition of female  genital mutilation. These practices ultimately lead to exclusive trends verging on one sort of supremacy or another including religious, racial or gender types.

Extremism leads to isolation which we cannot afford on this small planet. Let us not submit to the notions of blaming learning of foreign languages for neglecting or changing our good cultural values. On the contrary, when we learn new languages, we enrich our culture and increase our chances of success in making our culture known to others.

The question of raising a generation well versed in foreign languages, especially the English language, is not only important in higher education, but also for boosting our chances of communication with the world economic community. This latter aspect is crucial at the present stage of development of Sudan that has been stagnant for decades. One of the reasons for this stagnation is the isolation and poor representation on world forums.

A good grasp of a foreign language, be it English, Chinese, German or Japanese opens up markets for products and attracts investment and transfer of technology.  As mentioned above, some African counties have already broken the language barrier and succeeded in attracting investments in industry by global manufacturers – do we think that we can do the same with the traditional cultural complacency still embodied in some political minds?

Forward looking leadership should not ignore the national benefits of strong language education while protecting our national heritage and culture. Unfortunately this parochial focus on heritage does not have international economics let alone globalization among its concerns!

The punch line is:  let us learn English and other languages well, so that we have professional cadres who can sell our national economic opportunities to global traders and industrial investors.

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