THE world of multilingualism is full of purists – people who believe that the English language is intrinsically superior to all others – but whilst this widely purported view has become a societal norm; its effects particularly in Namibia’s political landscape have stifled development and progress.
This has been so, in numerous instances in which some councillors and Parliamentarians who are not English savvy have failed to convey clear cut messages at developmental gatherings with a view that if they opt for their vernacular languages they would become shunned by society and deemed unfit for public offices.
It is under this pre-text that has become relevant for responsible authorities to reinstate local languages in education and key community development programmes – especially in the regions – as a key to achieving elusive economic and social growth.
Fundamentally, a better understanding of the impact of language as a medium of instruction on development is a high priority for governments, policymakers, communities, teachers and many others.
Indeed, the dilemma in language policy is universal. On the one hand is the need to use local languages in politics and development because they are the most accessible to the people, they emphasise local relevance, they enhance self-determination, and they encourage creativity in implementation. On the other hand, every country needs international languages such as English as windows to modern science and technology around the world. Overemphasis on one adversely affects the other. The best approach therefore is to make appropriate use of both.
This is why it may also well not be too late for some of our political figures to take up short English courses to improve their understanding and delivery of the language when they stand between the masses and a developmental programme that need to be communicated well to achieve its core objectives.
Similarly important is the fact that the electorate that does not have good foundations in their mother tongue are disadvantaged if taught in a second language and that this situation is compounded when politicians using the second language themselves lack confidence in that language.
The wider debate about development has already raised two important concepts: that low rates of English literacy make it hard for people to contribute to and benefit from socio-economic development, and that development activity is unhelpful if it not understood or conveyed effectively. What now needs to be brought to that debate is an awareness that it is harder to learn if you don’t understand lessons, and that it is harder to teach if you are not confident in the language of learning.
Conclusively, for meaningful development to take place emphasis needs to be placed on education and mass participation in economic processes. If the majority of the population is to be reached, the country’s indigenous languages need to be used in politics and in many other domains. While a global language such as English is a useful tool for development, community development programmes cannot be successfully implemented unless they are presented in a language that people
Confidente. Lifting the Lid. Copyright © 2015