Learning a foreign language will give you a competitive edge

By Michael Oriedo

As the world becomes a global village and organisations seek multi-talented people, knowing a foreign language is becoming a rule, rather than an exception.

It is now advantageous to speak languages such as Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, Arabic, Italian, French and German.

Fred Odhiambo, the Director of Regional Centre for Tourism and Foreign Languages says learning a foreign language has ceased to be a preserve for people in the hospitality industry or those working for international organisations. "We used to offer foreign languages mainly to students studying tourism, air travel and hotel management, but the trend has changed. Knowledge in foreign languages is becoming inevitable for everyone," he says.

A lesson at Regional Centre for Tourism and Foreign Languages

People in various fields are now enrolling for foreign languages. "The most popular languages at our college are Spanish, French, Arabic and Chinese," he says.

He says Chinese is quickly gaining currency among Kenyans as the country continues to make inroads in the region.

Because of the varied interest of the foreign language students colleges work with individualised curriculum. "You cannot teach someone who wants to learn a certain language because he intends to visit the country in which it is spoken the same way with someone who wants to learn the language for knowledge sake,’’ he says. Tourist to foreign countries undergo a crush program where they learn specific things that would help them during their visit.

Odhiambo says language courses are taught in several stages.

"One has to start with the basics where they learn the alphabet, counting and names of animals. A student then progresses to the highest level, which is diploma," he explains. "One may assume that because they are adults, they can rush through the lessons but it does not work," he advises.


Several stages

Language lessons are both practical and theory. In the former, students learn oral skills, which involve pronunciations and translations.

In theory students learn how to write words and construct sentences. "These are not easy tasks. Some students find the going in some languages tough," he says.

Odhiambo isolates Chinese and Japanese as among languages that students find difficult. "The Chinese alphabet mainly looks like symbols, which one must know to understand meanings of words in the language. This gives people difficulties leading to drop outs," he says.

To make learners understand foreign languages better, Odhiambo says a school must engage students in exercises that expose them to speakers of the language they are studying. These include interactive sessions in cooking and games.

"We realised involving them in activities like dancing salsa for those studying Spanish or preparing French cuisines for those studying French helps them comprehend the languages better," he says.