Uganda’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Hon. Okello Oryem, has implored Ugandans to learn foreign languages, noting that they are important for individual and national development. Speaking at the official opening of the International Foreign Languages Conference at Ndere Centre on Wednesday, 20th August, 2014, the Minister said Ugandans are outcompeted on the labour market due to language barrier. He expressed concern over failure by Ugandans to learn Swahili, a language, he said, is key in regional integration. Hon. Oryem said Ugandans are losing out on many opportunities in the region because they cannot speak Swahili.
Commenting on Foreign Service, the Minister said the Government had adopted a policy obliging diplomats to learn the language of the country where they are posted. “Many of our diplomats could hardly speak another language apart from English and their mother tongue and this was costing us a lot in terms of hiring interpreters. We hope the policy will help minimise the cost of hiring interpreters and place us in a better position in international cooperation,” he said.
Hon. Oryem advised that teaching foreign languages should start at a lower level because children learn faster than adults. He suggested that knowledge of a foreign language should be made a prerequisite for joining University.
Responding to a request by the Principal of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Prof. Edward K. Kirumira, for government to consider awarding contracts for interpretation and translation to Makerere University, the Minister promised he would present a position paper to Cabinet. Prof. Kirumira noted that utilizing local capacity would not only minimize costs but also improve quality.
The Dean, School of Languages, Literature and Communication, Assoc. Prof. Aaron Mushengyezi, underscored the importance of foreign languages, noting that no language is useless.
The Head of the Department of European and Oriental Languages, also Chair of the Conference, Dr Edith Natukunda – Togboa, expressed gratitude to the French, German, Chinese and Saudi Arabian embassies for the support rendered towards the teaching of foreign languages at Makerere University in the last 50 years.
The Cultural gala
The second day of the conference was crowned with a cultural gala featuring language performances by students from Nabisunsa Girls School, St. Josephs SS Nsambya and Kisubi Mapeera Secondary School as well as creative dances by Jubilee Performers. The gala was presided over by the Minister of State for Industry and Technology, Hon. James Mutende, in company of his wife, Hon. Lydia Wanyoto Mutende.
In his remarks, Hon Mutende acknowledged the importance of foreign languages in fostering international trade, technology transfer and cooperation. He noted that languages can boost economic growth by facilitating an increase to the proportion of access to information and education. He commended the University for the progress made in teaching foreign languages. Makerere University through the School of Languages, Literature and Communication currently teaches all languages presumed vital in international relations. These include French, Chinese, German, Arabic, Spanish, Japanese and Kiswahili.
At the same event, former Makerere University French Don, Prof. M. Joel Bertrand, shared his experience of the difficult times at Makerere University and Uganda in general during former President Idi Amin’s regime. “During the 70’s, life was extremely hard in Uganda. Everything was scarce. The shops had items on display with barely anything inside. I also recall the days when my students could spend about 20 minutes off the lecture time trying to secure chairs. Things have greatly improved,” he said. Prof. Bertrand was the coordinator of the French subject at Makerere Uverversity between 1975-1983. He taught Dr Natukunda.
In their recommendations, the participants appealed to government to create a conducive policy environment that promotes the teaching and learning of foreign languages. They also appealed for increased investment towards the teaching of languages.
The three-day conference covered several topics including, Multilingualism and Multiculturalism in Foreign Languages, the role of foreign and indigenous languages in national development as well as the importance of integrating Information Communication Technology in teaching and learning foreign languages.
For details on the presentations, please see the conference booklet herewith attached.