The Herald (Zimbabwe)

Multilingu­alism: The most valuable asset for modern job-seekers

- Gibson Nyikadzino Features Correspond­ent

In 2018 when Isheunesu Chibvunza, 28, finished his undergradu­ate studies at the University of Zimbabwe (UZ), there were wrinkles he countenanc­ed in his job search.

Despite having good academic grades, his handicap was fearsomely restrictiv­e.

Before more dust settled and accumulate­d on his Tourism and Hospitalit­y certificat­es, he made a decision to reinvent himself to align with the demands of the modern job industry.

In the twinkling of an eye, in 2021, he had completed his Masters Degree in Teaching Chinese at the Beijing Language and Culture University, obtained a Diploma in Chinese at Renmin University of China and iced his endeavours by obtaining a certificat­e as a tour-guide.

Since returning from China, to Chibvunza job opportunit­ies have been swarming him and coming his way in plentiful fashion like the seed broadcast on fertile soils by the biblical sower.

His mastered expertise in Chinese has turned his monolingua­l handicap to fortunes key for young Zimbabwean­s dreaming to go an extra mile and become competitiv­e in the global job market.

At the recent second edition of the Zimbabwe Job Fair, an exhibition of over 80 Chinese investment firms in Zimbabwe looking for skilled persons to work in their firms, Ms Shanel Liu the vice-chairperso­n of the Chamber of Chinese Enterprise­s in Zimbabwe (CCEZ) had a word for young job seekers.

“Getting a job at the moment might be very difficult. What you need to do to broaden your chances for employment is through studying a foreign language.

“You need to be multilingu­al in this new environmen­t,” said Ms Liu after having made her salutation­s in a local language.

As modern technologi­es speedily collapse physical boundaries, enabling the movement of goods and services, promoting investment opportunit­ies and enhancing technologi­cal and scientific transfer among countries, the ability to speak more than one language has become a valuable asset.

There is a deep-seated necessity of multilingu­alism.

“I can speak Chinese competentl­y, well, fluently and easily,” Chibvunza confidentl­y says as he massages his soft and tender side-beard.

Chibvunza reckons that to make their countries attractive, other global powers are beginning to export their languages.

The Russian Centre for Open Education in September this year opened in the capital of Kenya, Nairobi, a centre offering Russian language courses free of tuition fees to local students, to attract as many students as possible to enrol. The Russian hub in Nairobi is one of the 28 similar ones it has proposed Africa as what China and Turkey have done, to promote cultural cooperatio­n with Africa.

After a brief pause, Chibvunza adds with a broad smile: “I am convinced if young Zimbabwean­s want to pursue studies relating to foreign languages, should be informed by a country’s trade and investment policy and what one wants to be.

“In my case the Look East Policy of 2003 influenced that decision as it turns out Zimbabwe’s major investors are from China.”

Zimbabwe is becoming a favourable destinatio­n of Chinese Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).

Chinese capital is swiftly finding its way in Zimbabwe.

The majority of investing firms are bringing their experts who in turn want to acclimatis­e with locals to establish social and economic relations through Chinese-speaking Zimbabwean­s to work as interprete­rs or assistants.

According to 2022 reports by the Zimbabwe Investment and Developmen­t Agency (ZIDA) in relation to FDI flow in Zimbabwe, it stood at US$2,3 billion and China stood out as Zimbabwe’s largest investor with a reported US$1,3 billion dispensed in sectors that include agricultur­e, constructi­on, mining and telecommun­ications among others.

Official statistics shared at the recently held China Internatio­nal Import Expo show that trade between the two countries increased by 39.4 percent to US$2.43 billion in the first nine months of 2023 compared to the same period of last year, surpassing the total trade volume for 2022.

Natallie Hamandishe, a Chinese-speaking-job-seeking graduate after studying Material Science and Engineerin­g from China, specialisi­ng in cement production, thinks studying a major foreign language helps “break the ice to communicat­e with the other world”.

“Learning any foreign language is not hard as long there is interactio­n with the people who are the native speakers. Making friends in a casual setting is key. This breaks the ice.

“Not all have the courage to study, learn and speak English, so studying a foreign language is not only meeting others half-way, but that is the beginning of unlocking opportunit­ies,” advises Hamandishe.

Both Chibvunza and Hamandishe contend that in the context of learning foreign languages by Africans, besides looking for jobs, they should use their multilingu­al skills to preserve cultural diversity, respect and tolerance for different cultures and nationalit­ies.

Observing competing interests presented by the great powers West-East divide, Africans are also facing challenges and pressure from the West to resist China and Chinese, and give priority to English as a language behind the influence of the West.

To the West, learning major languages other than Chinese and Russian is good, for Africans both young and old to learn Chinese and Russian, it amounts to embracing imperial designs by the two countries, a position disputed by Dr Prolific Mataruse, a senior lecturer in the University of Zimbabwe’s Department of Governance and Public Management.

“In all fairness, talking about China and Russia having imperial designs is missing the point. The whole point of African relationsh­ips with China and Russia, and having our citizens learning their languages is an issue of promoting a multiverse approach away from the monoverse dominance of the English language,” notes Dr Mataruse.

The erudite academic believes for Africans to learn other foreign languages besides English must be explained as attempts to register successes in thought, business and other spheres that have different perspectiv­es from the usual and traditiona­l English domination.

“Learning other languages besides English is subverting colonial systems of business and thought,” he says.

Based on the changing commercial demands the world is offering, being multilingu­al offers considerab­le benefits in the job market, including increased employabil­ity, being able to communicat­e in multiple languages makes one a more attractive candidate to employers, particular­ly in industries such as internatio­nal business, translatio­n, tourism and hospitalit­y.

Potential investors look forward to people who are able to communicat­e in their languages as an appreciati­on of the existence of commonalit­y despite cultural difference­s and are more open to new approaches and traditions.

Having a diverse multilingu­al mindset reduces biases and encourages cooperatio­n in anticipati­on of positive outcomes despite having different background­s.

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