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24.03.2009 Feature Article

Take a Second Chance at the Ghana Institute of Languages

Kwame Ofori secured an international appointment with very attractive fringe benefits, which required a working knowledge in spoken and written French.

He did not have this added advantage and therefore lost the opportunity to another candidate who had more than the required conditions.

Many Ghanaians have found themselves in a similar disadvantageous situation and regretted not having taken their French classes in secondary school seriously.

The situation is more worrying when you find yourself at an international conference within a member-state of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) where proceedings are conducted mainly in French with very little or no interpretation in English.

There was the case of this Venezuelan professor who attended an international conference in Tokyo who almost failed to communicate the contents of his paper across to the participants because there was no Spanish interpreter as the official languages used there were English and French.

Fortunately, one of the participants with some knowledge in Spanish opted to interpret the professor's delivery that lasted only some five minutes, thereby bringing a huge relief to both him and other conference participants.

Though Ghana is surrounded by French-speaking countries (Cote d'Ivoire, Togo, Burkina Faso, Niger, Mali and Benin), most Ghanaians cannot communicate effectively in French when they find themselves in any of these countries.

Luckily for us in Ghana, a few people in these French-speaking countries are able to express themselves in good and fluent English. How come? They have demonstrated more seriousness at learning other foreign languages apart from their own official language.

The surprising thing is that most of these people come to Ghana to learn English and other foreign languages.

Today, things are beginning to change with the realization by many that they are either at sea during such conferences when no one comes to their aid and are compelled to swallow the French words or are overburdened with conference papers that are written in French.

Those who have been to secondary school sometimes muster courage to mumble a few French words they learnt long ago at school or at least return the greeting but stop dead right there. They hardly go beyond “Bonjour, Monsieur, Ca va?) because the words will simply not flow.

This is the dilemma alluded to by the National Co-ordinator for the Teaching of French, Ms Grace Nyuur, during the celebration of the French Language Awareness Day in Ghana in Accra in March, this year under the theme: “French Language, a Tool for Stronger Regional Integration”.

Ms Nyuur told the participants that graduates of the country's educational institutions would be better placed in the job market if they were bilingual.

He also said that most of them could gain employment in neighbouring French-speaking countries if they could express themselves and write in the French language.

“Today, some prominent people have regretted missing out on the French language and wish they had the opportunity to learn and speak it now than face the embarrassment of having translators in the era of ECOWAS and globalisation,” she stated.

Many Ghanaians who take up appointments in the West African sub-region relish their ability to speak fluent French or at least understand spoken French. They therefore end up attending French classes organized by Alliance Francaise or other private institutions.

Students who entered the universities and opted to read French and other foreign languages today appreciate their good judgement due to the ease with which they secure international appointments or effectively communicate with their colleagues who fluently speak French, German, Italian, or Spanish.

There are indeed lots of Ghanaians and foreigners who now take courses in more than one of these foreign or international languages offered at the Ghana Institute of Languages (GIL) established in 1961.

Its aim was to “teach modern languages and advice government on language matters as a way of promoting Pan-Africanism, integrated economic development and cordial relations between Ghana and other countries”.

The GIL now offers the singular opportunity to students eager to learn Arabic, English, French, German, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.

The importance of this institute is amply illustrated by the fact that it was placed under the Presidency at the time of its establishment, with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs exercising oversight responsibility.

It was not until the early 1990s that GIL was placed under the Ministry of Education. Right now, the Institute is under the Ministry of Education, Science and Sports, with the National Council for Tertiary Education exercising oversight responsibility.

Impact of GIL

GIL has since 1964 and 1974 added two professional schools, namely School of Translators and the School of Bilingual Secretaries, to its programmes, making it one of the most important institutions in Ghana today.

Mr Christopher K. Angkosaala, Acting Director of the GIL, who is a multi-linguist, has stated that in spite of the relevance and impact of the GIL, both nationally and internationally, it is facing challenges that constitute an impediment to realizing its targets.

He particularly bemoans the inability of government to pass a new Act to replace NLCD 324 of 1969, which has been rendered obsolete by the growth and dynamics of the institute to conform to its present status as an accredited tertiary institution.

Mr Angkosaala, who was addressing the Seventh Matriculation ceremony of 583 students at the GIL in November, 2009, said this and other challenges were thwarting efforts to accelerate the process of developing the much needed infrastructure for the institute.

For example, he said since its establishment in 1961, the GIL has been sharing two blocks with five other institutions, a situation that has for decades frustrated the GIL plans to expand existing facilities such as classrooms, laboratories, libraries, hostels, offices and conference rooms.

The Director's hopes have, however, been rekindled with the funding of some projects and provision of some facilities by government through the GET Fund.

“We are happy to say that the construction of a two-storey classrooms block at Okponglo in Accra is progressing steadily and would hopefully be completed by the close of the current academic year.”

“It is our submission that some seed money is voted to augment funding from the GETFund to accelerate the process of developing the much needed infrastructure for the institute,” he stated.

Mr Angkosaala expressed dismay that the tertiary status of the institute was not reflected in the remuneration and conditions of service of staff, thereby creating frustration, tension and constraints in promoting harmony and goal congruence to retain the cream of human resources.

Mr Angkosaala said the GIL is unique and the only institute of its kind in sub-Saharan Africa where people from countries of the African and West African sub-region pursue programmes in language competence, applied linguistics, particularly in professional translation and bilingual secretaries and provides professional translation and interpretation and secretarial services.

“To add to this, its social impact is very significant both in Africa and beyond. It has become a centre for the promotion of understanding and international co-operation through breaking language and cultural barriers.”

He told the GNA that the GIL had turned out products who were contributing immensely in both private and public service, both locally and internationally.

“Wherever you go, you would meet products of the Institute contributing immensely in private and public service both locally and internationally.

“They can be found in top executive and middle-level positions in the United Nations system, the African Union, African Caribbean and Pacific countries, and the African Development Bank (AfDB).

Others benefiting from the GIL products are the Economic Community of West African States, World Vision International, embassies, Office of the President of Ghana, the Parliament of Ghana, and the various Ministries, Departments and Agencies in Ghana…”

The institute also has working relations with various universities, including all the public universities in Ghana, United Kingdom, France, Canada, Spain, Germany, Brazil, Russia, Cuba, Libya, Cote d'Ivoire and Senegal, among others.

Mr Angkosaala told the students that “languages are a sine qua non for success in all endeavours, particularly in this of a 'wired' world”, adding that the GIL offered them a multi-cultural environment where seven international languages are taught, learnt and used competently.

He also reminded them of the need to avoid the use of jargon, corrupted or hybrid forms of the languages they were learning.

“This affords you the most stellar opportunity to learn the standard forms of the languages you need to express your personality on the world stage,” he admonished them.

He also cautioned the students that academic work demanded personal discipline and organization and they must, therefore, dissociate themselves from all attitudes, habits and influences that had a negative incidence on their training and rather focus on their chosen courses.

GIL offers all Ghanaians and, of course, all Africans, the second chance to become international men and women who can fit into any job offered at any level worldwide.

Let us all take a second chance then! But we can best reap the full benefits of GIL when it is able to operate as a full-fledged tertiary institution fully equipped to teach these languages.

But, again, its staff must be very well motivated and equipped to perform to the best of their ability.

Ray Ankomah (GNA)

Ray Ankomah
Ray Ankomah, © 2009

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