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Applying for the Mandela Washington Fellowship: How’s Your English?
February 4, 2022

Mandela Washington Fellowship applicants who come from countries where English is the main language or one of the main languages have a built-in advantage when it comes to meeting the requirement to be proficient in reading, writing and speaking the language.

Diane Edea, a 2016 Fellow from Benin, pointed this out directly to President Obama during the town hall meeting at the August 1–3 MWF Presidential Summit.

In her French-speaking country, Edea studied applied linguistics and communications before creating an English-language learning center that trains students and professionals for interviews as well as for English language tests such as the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) and IELTS (International English Language Testing System). She said she is also hoping to use it to train MWF hopefuls.

In her remarks to Obama, Edea asked, “Mr. President … help us build English club[s], English language centers for young people to be able to be more efficient and seize this opportunity.”

Fanta Coumba Karembé, a 2016 Fellow from Mali, said English was indeed a barrier for her and others who live in French- and Portuguese-speaking countries. “You need help if it’s not your language,” she said. “You have to go to someone who has mastered the language and get them to look at your application and make corrections.”

If you are not a native English speaker, where do you feel you need the most improvement? For some, like 2016 Fellow Wilfrid Marx Abidji from Benin, reading and writing the language was not a problem.

“I have a B.A. in English, but since I am in a French-speaking environment, my speaking was not as fluent as I needed,” he said.

He looked for ways to practice and improve his conversational skills, which he knew would be critical if he was called in for an interview.

His advice? Try to find ways to immerse yourself in the language.

“Switch your TV to an English station like CNN, or your radio to BBC, and try to create an English-speaking environment,” Abidji said.

For more ways to improve your English, download this English learning toolkit created by IREX and the University of Texas at Austin. This toolkit was designed to help members of the YALI community who are ESL speakers continue to develop their English skills.

Do you have tips on how you have improved your English? Or are you a native speaker and willing to practice with others who want to sharpen their skills? Become a YALI Network member and make those connections by following the YALI Network Facebook page or the YALI Network LinkedIn group.

Good luck with your application!