English at Agahozo-Shalom

September 12, 2013

At the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village we strive to be an English immersion community. In accordance with the Rwandan government’s switch to an English-based education from their former French-based education five years ago, the Village has integrated English language into the daily lives of the students and staff members. The Village philosophy stands behind the notion that as our students develop high-level English skills and become accustomed to hearing the English language spoken, it will serve them in their future, make them more qualified for jobs and give them a significant edge in the current Rwandan educational and economic environments. 

In their first year, students take intensive courses in English several days a week both while they are at school and with the Informal education program in the Village. They are challenged to speak with the many native English speakers who live in the Village. They interact daily with their Cousins, who are part of the Long-Term Volunteer Program. 

In later years they study hospitality, host guests and visitors, patiently explain the ins and outs of the Village model and philosophy, provide tours, exchange ideas and thoughts, and get to know the many different people who come across the Village’s threshold from all corners of the world. Many native English speakers adjust their personal speech patterns, slowing down their cadence, and simplifying their vocabulary in an effort to ensure effective communication.  The long-term volunteers often comment that there are continual moments throughout each day when they are approached by ASYV students who are eager to speak, listen and practice their conversation skills. 

English is used in the dining hall to make announcements, so students learn quickly that in order to avoid getting lost or missing messages. When comparing his experience at Agahozo-Shalom with that of his former school, one Enrichment Year (1st year) student said that the English in the Village is, “stronger than where I come from. Outside the Village, teachers only teach you so you can pass your exams. At ASYV they want you to really know the language and use it as a native would.” 

Another student explained that, “English at ASYV is very good. We can make good communication and it’s easy because people are here to help you.” She expressed appreciation for her access to so many books in the Village library, the many movies that are in English without Kinyarwandan explanations, and the supportive and encouraging environment. “People at home thought that I was boastful when I tried to practice my English. Here it is like a game… we have to learn first and for all of us, we love movies… in the future it will help us to get a job and even now it helps us.”

Students in older grades echo these sentiments saying that many international businesses from China and India are coming to Rwanda and the common language they share is English. As a result, they feel strongly that not only will their grades in school be important,  but that their grasp of the English language will be a component of their future success.

I like that at Agahozo-Shalom they encourage reading. I read a book called The Grain of Winter by an East African writer,” a young Enrichment Year boy explained. “Then I had many conversations and made many mistakes but I don’t have to be shy. It doesn’t matter.” For many at Agahozo-Shalom, the Village is the first place they have lived where reading is encouraged and books are readily available for them to peruse. “Before we were afraid to take a book, but here we feel we should take care of, and use what we have. We know it belongs to all of us, to the whole community. The books are ours.”

Though it is a constant challenge to learn and live life regularly using English, the ASYV students are incredibly vigilant and impressive. Within weeks of them arriving in the Village, the changes are noticeable and the transformation that occurs over the course of four years is truly extraordinary.