Member of Parliament and founder of Global Office, Mustafa Nayyem talks about the role English has played in his own life, and the initiative to popularise English language study in Ukraine.
I was nearly thirty and didn’t speak any English, really had only a little knowledge of it. I came to see that at my age it wasn’t something to be proud of – not speaking any foreign language. It didn’t paint a bright picture for my future. So, I enrolled in a language school and started studying intensively.
I still don’t speak perfectly, but I’m able to use what I have to communicate with the outside world and represent my country. English has opened a lot of doors for me. It’s allowed me to reach out to individuals who most of my colleagues would have no access to. It got me into Stanford University, where communicating with Francis Fukuyama made it clear that what’s needed most is people who will take responsibility. English is an instrument for me to tell the world what’s really going on in Ukraine.
These days, knowing English is crucial for our society - Ukraine needs to communicate with the outside world. I have been a member of travelling parliamentary delegations, and I see that often English is the only tool we have in the struggle to report the truth. That’s the reason I decided to take an active part in promoting the learning of foreign languages in Ukraine and helped start the Global Office NGO. The experience of the nation of Georgia inspired me. There, in a very short period, they raised up a whole generation that speaks English! It’s possible here, in Ukraine, too. Even more, it’s needed. Critically. Especially during this period of Russian aggression. We need to be able to speak to the world about what is happening in Ukraine in a language that the world speaks.
We initially proposed the idea of popularizing English in Ukraine in the spring of 2015. Then there was the GoGlobal initiative (ed. “GoGlobal” is a campaign to promote English led by the NGO Global Office). Representatives from the Cabinet of Ministers, MPs, and President all supported the campaign at the National Council for Reform. The President, Petro Poroshenko, speaks English very well and understands its importance to the country, and how things are moving in Europe, and he signed a decree in November of 2015 designating 2016 as the Year of English in Ukraine. The GoGlobal joined in to help formulate the language of the decree, which establishes opportunities for studying and developing the use of English at all levels of the state structure.
There is still a lot of work to do. First off, we need to improve the quality of English language instruction in our schools and our university level teacher training system. The teaching of foreign languages needs to be more practical and less theoretical. We also need to promote teaching as a profession. Something seen as desirable by good students who will go on to be excellent teachers of foreign language in our schools. We also need to have an appropriate means of testing all four language skills. We can significantly improve the situation with foreign language here through the promotion of adult and continuing education programmes, as well as volunteer programmes involving native speakers. Mainly we need to give our students the motivation they need, and equip him for life in the workaday world.