The power of language

Growing up in a remote village in Bangladesh and coming from an illiterate family did not stop Mizanur Rahman from developing his love of learning and talent for languages. Now fluent in six languages he works as a Lecturer at the Institute of Modern Languages, University of Dhaka.

Here he shares his inspirational Award story with us.

“I had a very difficult childhood, growing up in an underprivileged family where education was not highly regarded. My father is an illiterate marginal farmer and my mother is a housewife with no education. I was also born with an eye condition, Ptosis, in both eyes and my parents could not afford to treat my condition, so throughout my childhood, I had very poor eyesight. Unable to see colour and unable to go into direct sunlight made me quite socially isolated. Instead, I turned to books, studying when I could because of my irregular school attendance, but still obtaining good final grades.

After finishing school, I was sent by my father to work at a garment factory in the capital city, Dhaka, to lessen the burden on the family. Being from such an underprivileged family meant that going to university was not really a practical option, but I eventually convinced my cousin to send me to college and I was admitted to an institute in Dhaka. I had no money to pay for the tuition, hostel or even food. It was difficult, but I met some amazing people who helped me through; friends contributed to my eye treatment and teachers gave me free books and lessons during their spare time. Despite my struggles, I passed my higher secondary exam securing a 4.70 out of 5.

After being accepted to study English literature at the University of Dhaka I discovered the Award and as a shy, introverted person it felt like the perfect platform to challenge myself. I started with Bronze and purposefully chose activities that pushed me outside of my comfort zone. I began swimming for my Physical Recreation, I taught little children in daycare for my Service and I began learning French as my Skill. After falling in love with the language, I continued learning after completing my Bronze Award – even going on to complete my higher diploma in French, obtaining the highest marks in my class.

The following year, I progressed to Silver, challenging myself further by starting different activities for each section. I wanted to give back to the community and fundraised for my Service. I began learning Spanish for my Skill at the ‘Inditex Catedral de La Lengua y Cultura Espaňola’ and once again fell in love with the language completing a four-year higher diploma with top marks. In 2014, I received a summer scholarship to attend the ‘Universidad de Santiago de Compostela’ in Galicia, Spain.

During the Gold level of the Award, I founded a voluntary organisation, designed to uplift underprivileged primary school and street children as my Service. The aim was to promote literacy and health awareness among remote and rural communities. 

Mizanur service

For Skill, I chose successfully to learn Chinese – I knew that learning this language was like re-training your brain to communicate, but, I really wanted to push myself and to prove I was up for the challenge.

The Award enabled me to excel and learn three of the world’s most spoken languages and now I am fluent in six tongues – Bengali, Hindi, English, French, Spanish and Chinese. Because of the Award, I’ve had the opportunity to work as a French interpreter at the World Bank, be a Spanish and French teacher and to work as a full time English lecturer. Because of the Award, I have now also published my first book of translated short stories as well as being awarded a Fulbright Scholarship at Stanford University.

The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award provided me with the platform to change my life and develop myself. I believe learning languages is not only enjoyable, it is becoming increasingly more important as we progress towards a thriving international future. The  skills I have learnt will not only help me  continue developing as a person but it has also encouraged me to inspire others and give back through my work as an Award Leader at the University of Dhaka."