Comm 101: in Kigali

What is the most basic lesson in communication?  Perhaps to understand that for communication to be complete there needs to be clear feedback that the message was received and understood?  I am not a communications theorist, though I realize the need to consider the receiver of a message and the medium by which the message is sent while composing and sending it.  Even as I write these lines, I am reflecting on how culturally-laden our communication is and how easy it is to make assumptions about senders of messages based on the content of their message.  I also realize that while I am in Rwanda, I am situated within a society that is in the midst of a communications revolution like one that I am not sure we in the US can fully comprehend.

Imagine this situation.  You are a native-born American, born of US citizens and living your entire life in the US.  Your mother tongue, English, is the language that you learn as an infant.  Learning English seems just about natural to an infant, as her life is immersed in it, her parents and other family members use it routinely and everyone around you reads, writes and speaks with it.  Now imagine, at the age of five (5), you enter primary school.  Your teacher greets you in English and then tells you that beginning immediately, she will be instructing you in English and Russian, the official language of commerce, government and schooling in your country.  By the time you enter secondary school, you are expected to do everything in Russian and English is still taught to you as a subject in school, and spoken to you at home by your loved ones, but all of your transactions with others occur in Russian. By the time you reach grade ten you are doing fairly well in Russian and have mastered English.

Now imagine that the US government, in your tenth year of school, decided that effective in one year, Mandarin Chinese would become the official language of schooling, commerce and government.  Officially, in one year’s time, all teachers would be expected to instruct in Mandarin, and the teaching of Russian would cease.  You would be expected in one year’s time then, as you enter the last year of secondary school, to read and write in Mandarin, to speak it and to take your national examinations in that language.  How do you think you would handle this?

This is essentially the situation in Rwanda, with other languages substituting.  Rwandans’ mother tongue is Kinyarwanda. For many years French has been the official language and English has now become the language that has replaced French.  There is a major upheaval in the country around language at this point.

Massive change brings hardship and opportunity.  For example, opportunities come for interpreters and English teachers.  Tommorow we are traveling to the north of Rwanda to visit Matt and Gayle Denham, who have relocated from Newberg, Oregon to work with Quaker schools in Rwanda for the purpose of teaching English to students and teachers.  Matt and Gayle are working under the auspices of Evangelical Friends Mission. We will be traveling by car about two and one-half hours north to get to Kidaho.  I have noticed not only the need, but in some people, the profound desire to learn English.  There are numerous efforts occuring all over this country in helping Rwandans learn English.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Africa, Education

One Comment on “Comm 101: in Kigali”

  1. Katie King Says:

    Vivid explanation. Thanks.


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