The Value of Foreign Languages Ambassador Closing Ceremony American English Experience



What a remarkable group of students! They remind me of when I was in Angola as a young girl struggling to master Portuguese. I attended San Jose school here in Luanda where all the instruction was in Portuguese. When I first started, I did not know Any Portuguese. At that point, I was a girl of six years rushing to keep up with my classmates. The effort paid off and as you can tell, I still keep the Portuguese I learned to this day. However, given the theme of today’s ceremony, I will keep my remarks to English and direct them to the students.

But first,

Ministra da Ciência e Tecnologia, Maria Cândida Pereira Teixeira
Secretário de Estado para a Formação do Ensino Técnico Profissional, Narciso Damásio dos Santos Benedito
Mães e Pais dos alunos
Alunos e Convidados

Let me begin say how appreciative we are to each of you and to the partners who helped to make the American English Experience possible. Thank you to Mediateca, to the Associação Angolana de Formadores da Língua Inglesa, and to the U.S. Angola Chamber of Commerce. Your efforts are changing lives and together we are building bridges to a better future for us all.

Now to the students. It is absolutely wonderful that each of you has been able to grasp a foreign language, in this case English, to the point where you are able to participate in an experience as the one you have this week. For you see, learning a foreign language, a language that you may not speak at home, opens doors to a world of experiences.

According to SIL International, a leading linguistic organization, there are approximately 7,000 languages in the world. This is a lot. What this number means is that we must learn multiple languages to communicate with one another. I imagine that each of you here knows several languages already. Whether Portuguese or Mbunda, Umbundu or Oshiwambo, Kikongo or French, English or one of many others spoken in Angola.

Keep learning.

The value of learning a foreign language cannot be reduced to the salary it can help you earn. It enriches your life and the lives of those around you. It builds bridges across society and between societies. It opens doors to new opportunities and experiences. Yes, being able to speak multiple languages can help you find a good job, get a good education, and these are important. But more importantly, it will help you to be a leader in your community.

In Washington D.C. in 2010, President Obama hosted the first group to participate in his Young African Leaders Initiative, also known as YALI. Many of the young leaders who participated from across Africa told incredible stories of how a common language enabled them to share their ideas, their insights and to return home and address challenges their communities were facing.

This year, President Obama announced the renaming of YALI’s Washington Fellowship in honor of Nelson Mandela. This year and next year, the Mandela Washington Fellowship will bring 500 young African leaders to the United States. There they participate in six-weeks of intensive leadership training, networking, and skills building. After those six-weeks, they attend a Presidential Summit where they meet President Obama. And it doesn’t end there, upon returning home, they have opportunities for grants and continuing training and mentorship. Some of them even receive internships from leading American companies.

The YALI Mandela Washington Fellowship is just one example of the types of experiences that are made available to you when you learn English. I want to end talking about YALI by just noting for everyone that applications for next year’s Fellowship are even now open. You can find out how to apply by going to the Embassy website or Facebook page.

The truth is, no matter who you are, you can make a difference in your family, in your community, in your country, in your world. There are opportunities every day. Language empowers you to seize those opportunities. The more languages and the better you speak them, the more opportunities you can take advantage of.

And as I indicated, don’t just look at opportunities to advance yourself. This week you were able to experience some incredible things, from meeting an American university basketball team, having dinner with an American family, and using English to solve challenges, to filming a public service video and even making s’mores! Share your experiences. Each of you is a leader and can make a difference in the lives of those around you.  A leader is someone who takes a problem and turns it into an opportunity for more than themselves.

The American President John F Kennedy once said, “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” To lead, you must continually learn. Value the languages you learn. Build them. Expand them. Then use them to make a difference.

As I mentioned at the beginning, I began my life with English, expanded to Portuguese and built from there. It takes effort and commitment. But speaking from experience having served twice as Ambassador and having worked in more countries than I can count the value of knowing foreign languages will forever change your life.

Thank you.