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British Council Building English proficiency, polishing soft skills

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The British Council in Rwanda is involved in a number of activities that involve building capacity in English proficiency and soft skills through the English Language Training (ELT) services. The ELT beneficiaries are drawn from ministries, the corporate world, government agencies, civil society organisations and other adults from the beginner to advanced levels.

The British Council has been working with the National Capacity Building Secretariat (NCBS) since 2008, empowering employees to perform better in the wider East African Community. Trainees are introduced to both English speaking and writing skills, where the former involves presentations, handling and active participation in meetings, while the latter builds trainees’ capacity in drafting proposals, reports, e-mails and other forms of business correspondence. The two, at a higher level, are combined to develop telephone and negotiation skills. “We have, for example, trained staff from parliament, NGOs—such as Peace Corps Rwanda, Office of the Prime Minister, students and others from private corporate entities such as Inyange Industries,” explains Corinne Leukes, a teacher with the British Council ELT.

Corinne explains that a communicative task-based approach is used to enable efficient delivery and efficient learning, where trainees are encouraged to practice the language through role plays, presentations and case studies, moving away from theoretical to practical teaching and learning, building confidence, practice and ability to perform in the process. Class sizes do not go beyond 20, while the duration of trainings varies with group needs that have been identified but generally ranging from a few days to two months.

There has been a gradual shift in Rwanda from Francophone and Francophone culture towards English conventions of using the language and other structures. Because English is very linear, focused and efficient, it has been possible to impart skills and develop abilities of the trainees to adopt the conventions of the English language.

Feedback from students has been very positive. “We give students the tools to be able to perform with what they have. Improving your language proficiency requires time and motivation investmentas well as being exposed to the language itself to some extent,” Corinne explains.  Participation, expression, listening and writing are encouraged throughout the training.

The trainees are asked to identify what they want to learn, their submissions noted, and using the British Council’s extensive experience in Rwanda, “ we add in what else they might need to enhance their abilities and level of proficiency. We listen to the trainees on where they want to go next and encourage them to self-reflect. We participate in shared feedback at the end of a course, and reflect on achievements and areas for improvement.”

The major challenges lie with a need to develop a deeper and more robust understanding of English language conventions which has been addressed by reorienting the learners into appreciating the language differently from new perspectives, including a general mental shift and wider contexts. Shifting from one language to another at times creates culture clash and interferes with the cognitive processing ability.

There has been improvement in the levels of proficiency but, still, there is need for more to support the beneficiaries beyond the corporate language training and polish their soft skills to even greater heights.

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