Why are Africans abandoning their languages? – Part 1

 In my last blog, I wrote that I found an unbelievable phenomenon going on in Nigeria during my research into why Africans (in this instance, Yoruba) born in Diaspora cannot speak their language. This phenomenon is what I will term as “the other side of the coin” to the issue that I started with as it is beyond comprehension!

This phenomenon  is that many Yoruba parents and teachers in Nigeria are favouring and promoting speaking English language over Yoruba language, thereby raising Yoruba children that are not able to speak their own native language.

They (the parents and the teachers) are now unconsciously enslaving us and our future to English at the detriment of our own language, thereby perpetuating Cultural cringe  which they should actually be ‘fighting’.

This practice, which is alienating our future generation from speaking their native language all in the name of having a better life, career and excelling in business world in the future, in my opinion, is wrong!

I discovered that this phenomenon has been going on for a while now and that so many Yoruba children born and raised in Nigeria are no longer able to speak fluently in their native language not to mention being proficient in proverbs, idioms and other forms of expression that are bona fide to someone raised in a particular culture from birth!

 

 

I met and spoke to some of these children and young adults who are not able to speak their language properly or they stutter to speak it as many of these children have been brain washed to think that they are ‘cool’ or ‘tush’ (or is it ‘toosh’!) This is wrong and ridiculous.

Personal encounter with issue

I first became aware of this issue a few years back when I noticed that some relatives’ children were always speaking in English whenever I phoned them. I did not mind at first as I thought that being children, they wanted to speak to me in English rather than in Yoruba due to my residence outside of the country.

However, on a particular occasion, I decided to speak to them in Yoruba and that was when  I realised that they did not understand Yoruba which made me speak to their mum who as a typical Nigerian Yoruba mother (that has been subtly brain washed into this belief) thought she was impressing me by saying that “they (the children) don’t really understand or speak Yoruba as such at home and in school simply because in their school they expect and encourage them to speak English even at home and so on…”

I responded by explaining the implications of her actions as she was in my opinion ‘selling’ her children to a fake unrealistic culture and language and that no matter how much they spoke English, they were never going to speak it like a child born and raised in an English culture, and that she was helping to unknowingly isolate her children from their society where they belong and where some would not hesitate to cheat and mock them in the future.

Thank GOD, she listened. I can now say that these children speak Yoruba fluently and one of them now in one of the Universities is a ‘Yoruba speaker champion’ among her friends as many of them rely and depend on her to help them when they are out in the community like in the market. These young girls that were not  allowed to speak Yoruba when young are now being forced to learn to speak their own native language in their own country!

And the issue is that many parents currently raising their children are not conscious of this issue, its impact and future implications as this issue is ongoing as I came to discover recently, hence the need to raise and bring awareness to it with the hope of helping someone or a family to proactively re-evaluate their approach to current practice and speak their language to their children.

 How did this start?

When confronted with a situation such as this, one begins to wonder why, when, and probably how did this start? It is rather difficult to actually trace or pinpoint when this behaviour and despicable attitude to our language started, I can only assume and conclude from my personal experiences when growing up, gathered information from research and general observation of the society that we live in.

Childhood awareness          

One of the things I remember that prevailed around 1970’s and 80’s when I was growing up, was that the more educated one was the more respect and honour the person got within the family and the larger society. I also remember that anyone coming from abroad with their children who could not speak our language were highly looked upon and almost revered!

But that was then! I believe that we as a society should have moved on from ‘hero’ worshipping of someone who speaks English. One would think that the amount of ‘educated’ people in our society would have allowed us to ‘see’ things better that English is just a language!

I know that English is both Nigeria’s lingua franca and the world’s business language, but it is still just a language! There are so many uneducated people in the parts of the world where English is their native language. They naturally speak English (it does not mean they can write it). Does this mean that when an illiterate English speaker gets to Nigeria, a graduate would hero-worship them simply because they speak English? It’s just a thought as the reality of how we perceive and treat someone because they speak English language in a tone that is peculiar to their language is uncanny.

To highlight this point, I heard of a story of some Nigerians that went to a particular world conference in America. That when it was time for the main guest speaker to speak, he had an interpreter because he was from China or Sweden (I cannot remember) and guess what, one of these Nigerians who probably had been feeling quite overwhelmed and intimidated because his English or intonation was not as the Westerners who’s language was English was heard to have commented that he no longer felt as if he was at “the bottom of the ladder” as at least, he understood and could speak English unlike the main guest speaker!

The expertise and the knowledge of this main guest speaker was not important to this Nigerian, but rather the ‘evaluation’ going on in their heart was about language rather than the content of their message! And that to me shows the way we have been unconsciously ‘tuned’ to think from childhood. Wrong emphasis is placed on the language rather than the individual and we need to start to correct this faulty perception in our upbringing.

 

Gathered information

From my research in relation to how we came about this pride that we take in speaking English language, I have come to the conclusion that this idea was rather ‘planted’ in us since time immemorial as so many of us living today ‘met’ or rather inherited this attitude without questioning it.

We all imbibed into it and so a false pride was planted in us which a quote from Pa Nelson Mandela, can help to confirm; 

Without saying, it became expedient that everyone would gravitate towards the supposed ‘superior’ culture. This is the way the British went about it. And do I blame them? That’s not the purpose of this blog. The purpose of this blog is to help us see how we are treating ourselves and our own language that we are still sacrificing on the altar of unchecked biased ego and pride and how we can consciously change this.

Finally…..

One thing I would like to point out here though, is that many of us (25 years old and above) that were raised speaking our language first and learning English later or raised simultaneously with both languages not only survived but we thrived and still thriving as we are bi-lingual.

We have turned out rather well speaking English language (including those that did not even pursue education beyond secondary school level) for this reason, I see no point in this delusion to make a child forgo speaking their language!

 

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