[lg policy] Bangladesh: Necessity of learning foreign languages

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Thu Mar 1 16:46:47 UTC 2012

Necessity of learning foreign languages

As global business and transactions of multinational companies are
increasing, we need knowledge of foreign languages (apart from
English) to ensure our place in today's competitive world. The
globalisation of economies and hybridisation of cultures demand
teaching of foreign languages more than ever before. Today, knowing a
common foreign language has become not only a necessity but also a
compulsion for a successful career in international relations, media,
trade, government, technology, and science. Comparing the place of
foreign language in education systems, for example, in Europe, the
United States, Japan, China and even India, Bangladesh should
reconsider its education mechanism in a changed world.

Lack of knowledge about foreign cultures and foreign languages
challenges our students' ability to compete in the global marketplace.
Moreover, Bangladesh education system placed little value on foreign
languages other than English or on understanding cultures other than
our own. Hence, language skills and understanding of cultures are
urgently needed to address economic challenges and the strength of
Bangladesh businesses in global marketplace. So, our entire education
system needs the capacity to provide requisite foreign language

More than 52.7% of Europeans are fluent in both their native tongue
and at least one other language. At least one foreign language is
taught in most schools around the world. EU emphasises the importance
of schoolchildren learning at least two foreign languages before their
upper secondary education. The Lisbon Summit of 2000 ranked foreign
languages as one of the five key skills. A report suggests that
speaking a second language could increase an average worker's salary
by £3,000 (ð 3,300) a year.

Nowadays Chinese, Japanese and especially some European languages have
become very important in the world for study and economic purposes.
For example, German and French are considered to be important
languages of the world because both of them have influential
literature and economic aspects related with them. French and German
should be popularised for economic reasons in our country. Learning
these languages will help us to be more connected economically and
culturally and to explore our possibility benefits from globalisation.
In addition, it will give us impetus to build a healthy diaspora in
Europe to discover new destinations of remittance flow.

Knowledge of German in particular improves one's chances in the
employment market. Many German companies abroad, and various foreign
companies in Germany and companies with close links to German-speaking
countries, look for employees with knowledge of German. Germany is
still the key trading partner for almost all the European countries
and many countries outside Europe.

Bangladesh, being a huge labour surplus country, has potential to
boost its economy by structural emphasis on foreign languages.
Remittances sent by migrants through official channels reached a
record $11 billion in 2010 while formal remittances inflow in 2010 was
$10,804 million (World Bank, 2011). Percentage of Bangladeshi migrants
by continent of destination in Europe is only 5% while in Asia it is
92% (Human Development Report, 2009). It is assumed that by acquiring
European languages the number of Bangladeshi migrants in Europe could
be increased from 5% to 25% within a decade.

It is a matter of concern that the unsatisfactory performance of
students in language and literacy are visible at all levels of our
education system, with its accompanying effects on language
competence. This negatively affects the potential for human
development. In order to provide solutions while responding properly
to developing trends in our region and beyond in the age of
geo-economics, the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Expatriates'
Welfare and Overseas Employment can formulate a national policy and
strategy on language education. Apart from many private and public
universities, foreign languages can be taught from school level as
well. International skills should be a major part in every young
person's school curriculum.

Research indicates that children who are exposed to a foreign language
at a young age achieve higher levels of cognitive development and are
better at solving complex problems than those who are not (Bialystok &
Hakuta 1994). All these factors emphasise the urgency for learning
foreign languages in addition to our mother tongue. In India, for
example, learning a foreign language is mandatory from class seven.

It is crystal clear that Bangladesh is far behind other countries on
the foreign language issue. Our young people are at a growing
disadvantage in the employment market because knowledge of English is
not enough. Despite calls for action, we have fallen further behind
the rest of the world in preparing our students to communicate
effectively in languages other than English. An unsuccessful attempt
was made in 1983 to introduce Arabic as a required language in primary
and secondary levels. However, Arabic was not a popular subject at the
college and university level. Bangladesh needs a complete language

Among those engaged in international education, it is considered a
basic premise that, in today's knowledge-based global economy and
society, full command of at least one foreign language is a core
competency that should become compulsory for all graduates of
higher-education institutions. It is also generally acknowledged that
higher-education institutions and the educational systems should make
more serious efforts to go beyond mere lip-service by making sure that
proficiency in a foreign language is really acquired at a functional
level. Parents and educators would be wise to take advantage of the
many available opportunities and resources for foreign language
learning for the benefit of children coming of age in the 21st

The writer is a Research Analyst, Bangladesh Pluralism Project, at the
Policy Research Institute of Bangladesh.

E-mail: jalaluddindu at gmail.com


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