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Afghanistan: Speaking The Same Language -- Learning English Means Finding A Job (Part 3)

Thousands of Afghans are attending private English classes in Kabul and in the country's other major cities. Students say there is one major reason behind the trend -- by learning English, they dramatically increase their chances of finding a good job.

Prague, 14 August 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Numerous private English classes in Kabul have emerged since the fall of the Taliban in late 2001. The students -- both men and women -- come from diverse backgrounds. Some of them are high school graduates or university students. Others are engineers, doctors, or teachers. They spend two hours a day, six days a week learning English.

The trend toward studying English began as soon as a U.S.-backed transitional government was established in Kabul in late 2001 and thousands of foreigners -- such as aid workers and diplomats -- began pouring into the country.

Almost every Afghan student says there is only one reason to learn English -- to help them find a proper job with a nongovernmental organization, foreign company, or diplomatic office based in the country. Afghans who are fluent in English are in high demand. They are offered positions as translators or receptionists and sometimes as qualified specialists.

Wages at local governmental offices range between $35 to $50 a month, while foreign aid agencies and companies pay between $500 and $1,000 per month.

All of the jobs advertised by Western companies list knowledge of English and computer literacy as basic requirements. Language schools are reacting to the trend. Almost every English class in Kabul is accompanied by a special course in computer training.

Farhad, a 16-year-old student from Firdawsi High School in Kabul, says she wants to learn both language and computers skills in order to increase her chances of finding a good job.

"When I finish the fourth semester in English classes, I want to start computer training," she said.

Hanifa Siddiqi is a 35-year-old teacher at Al-Fatah High School in Kabul. She spends her afternoons learning English. She says she's trying to make up for time lost under the strict rule of the Taliban.

"After wasting five years in the Taliban's prison -- well, it was a prison for women -- Afghan women want to go to school, get an education, to learn English. We are learning English not because it is something fashionable. It is an international language, and we are learning it to find a better job," she said.

Private English classes in Afghanistan are mostly set up by Afghans who studied English in Pakistan or India. Jawad runs an English class and is also an English teacher. He is a graduate of a university in Peshawar.

English classrooms in Kabul used only the most basic teaching tools -- a textbook and a dictionary. The classrooms are often crowded with 40 to 60 students each. Despite the hardships, Jawad says the students are making progress because of their hard work and determination.

"Afghanis, especially the students, they are really indefatigable and are hard-working students. They listen. They work hard. They do their homework, and they listen to the teachers. And they are very polite," Jawad said.

English classes are being organized in Afghanistan's outlying provinces, too, but students there must settle for even fewer teaching materials and less qualified teachers. Some residents of the provinces, like Mohammed Bashir, move to Kabul simply to learn English.

"Now I live in Banaii [a Kabul suburb], and I attend an [English] course here. I came from Laghman Province. We have courses over there, but they are not as organized and as good as in Kabul. People are interested [in English] very much. But the government doesn't help to provide an appropriate place for students. Also, the teachers are not experienced," Bashir said.

Students pay 50 afghanis a month -- about $1 -- for most of the English classes. The price is affordable for those Afghans who are regularly employed but beyond the reach of the poor.

Naqibullah, an 18-year-old resident of Kabul, sells fruit in a city market. Naqibullah and his friend Aziz -- who sells hamburgers at the same market -- say they dream about learning a foreign language but can't afford it.

"I work here to earn a miserable amount of money for bread. I am poor. If I had money, I would study."

"I want to learn English, but as long as I am poor, I won't be able to study."

The two teenagers say they are determined to save enough money to pay for English classes, to learn the language they say would dramatically change their lives.

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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the region. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate and reintegrate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.