Demystifying other reasons for our obsession with English language
Having started with demystifying our obsession with English language with the first being demystifying “speaking the Queen’s English”, I think it necessary to also look at two other major reasons given by some people for promoting speaking of English language over our own language/s namely that:
- Hearing and learning to speak two languages simultaneously may confuse and delay a child’s ability to speak and that
- Learning to speak more than one language may put a strain on a child’s brain and affect their developmental growth.
These two reasons to me are similar; I will therefore address them as one with some facts with the hope that this information might help someone out there to make an informed choice and decision.
These reasons in my opinion should not be taken seriously as we as a people serve as a living proof that these reasons can just not be true and we do not need anyone at this point in time to tell us what we know as we (Nigerians with many languages) have lived together for so long without any of the above issues ever raised or encountered in our society.
For instance, there are so many none Yoruba people and their families living in Yoruba towns and cities who speak their indigenous languages and Yoruba (Edo, Igbo, Hausa, Tiv and so on) fluently while the same also goes for so many Yoruba people living in other parts of Nigeria (Sokoto, Warri, Makurdi Owerri, Aba, Kaduna, Onitsha and so on) who also speak their language, Yoruba and the language of their residence perfectly well.
This can be verified by our servicemen and women (The Military, The Police, Air force and The Navy) and their families (of 20 to 50 years of age or more) whose parents were transferred all over the country. They picked up and spoke many of our languages and they do very well in all areas and aspects of life. These reasons and assumptions can therefore not be right.
Apart from the above observation within our society, I believe it would be beneficial to also hear the opinions of some professionals like the Linguists, Doctors, Speech therapists etc., as their research and professional studies can be beneficial to our understanding and it might help in demystifying some myths that we hold onto.
To start with, the writers of “Why English? Confronting the Hydra”, (which is a collection of essays by a group of academics and English teachers) who ‘have taught English and have classroom experience of what is and what is not working’ wrote in their book that:
They have “repeatedly stress that they are not opposed to students learning English…., but they object to the practice, particularly common in African countries, of attempting to teach children in English from early on.
They cite repeated research showing that children learn more effectively if they start their schooling in their mother tongue.”1
And that “they (the children) not only acquire greater facility in subjects such as mathematics and science; they also end up learning better English if it is introduced as a foreign language and slowly integrated into their lives”2
(it is needless to say that there are so many of us alive today that are proof of this claim).
The problem for these writers “….which they acknowledge, is that many parents around the world refuse to accept this”3 .
The ‘many parents’ here include Africans who seem bent on going against better judgments including the ones staring them in their faces, they themselves are living examples of those that learnt their native languages first before English . I hope we would start to change and begin learning from and listening to each other as this is what education is all about.
Professionals’ answers to some questions
To further buttress my points, below are three videos that I found and I hope they would help in answering some of our questions and concerns and that they might also help to alleviate some of the fears expressed by some parents and teachers and hopefully help us all to have the confidence to embrace our own language more than ever before.
This video by Helen Doron, CEO of Global English Educational Franchise helps to address a particular question that so many people have which is:
“Would young children get confused when learning more than one language at a time?” I believe that watching this would alleviate some concerns that people have.
For those that might be concerned about how many languages a child could learn or whether they would be affected in any way? I believe this interview (by tvoparents.com) with research psychologists and a language teacher from Canada in relation to how children acquire second, third or fourth languages would prove informative.
And for those that might be concerned with questions around “What’s the best age to learn a new language?”, I hope that this video from Dnews (www.seekers.com) would also help in answering some questions.
And if you are still concerned about how many languages a child can learn, click here. This is a website of a multilingual mother that speaks and writes in four languages (German, Italian, French, English and Dutch) fluently. You can also read about her multilingual-journey here.
Language as we know is an important part of a culture and people. I therefore, believe that we need to consciously and proactively ensure our children speak our languages from birth so they can be comfortable with who they are later in life where ever they go and also for our own posterity.
As a multilingual nation, we as a people can embrace and enjoy both worlds of speaking both English and our own native languages. I believe in enjoying and having the best of both worlds where possible as some of us are already doing and there should be no reason why we should rob the future generation of this opportunity.
Someone wrote that
“expelling ones mother tongue from the classroom is a big mistake as it is one of the greatest resources we have when learning a new language”.
We should not expel our languages but rather celebrate it with English, our second and business language as our young people are doing with their music and as some of us have been raised.
My hope is that we will learn from our mistakes, (made unconsciously) so that similar thing about the excerpt below will not be written about us or any of our languages:
“Under the Assads, Kurds were forbidden from learning their own language at school, or even from speaking it in the military. The result is a generation of Syrian Kurds, many now in late middle age, who can’t write their own language” – Luke Harding
I am hoping that we are not looking forward to a generation of Yoruba people (or whatever African language) that will be lost to their own language as the above information about the Kurds implies.
I believe that we must not leave a language gap in our society, so that people that have not been raised to like or speak our language or believe in us and our culture will now rise up in the future to govern us, as they will trash our language and culture.
(1, 2 and 3 – Extracted from Financial Times UK; Weekend: 24th & 25th September 2016)