Why is it important to speak my African Language, (Yoruba)? (In Diaspora Part 1)

Ever since my online language tutoring website, www.laswel.com was made public, I have been asked many questions, directly and indirectly.

Some out of curiosity, others out of shock as if to say “What? Are you serious? Yoruba?”, “How come? “, “Of all the things you can do in the UK, why Yoruba?”, “you must be joking” while others out of admiration and pride, their response could be interpreted to say “well done girl! You’ve got guts! Kudos!”)

I would however summarise these questions as these “why teach Yoruba language?”, “How did you come about this idea?” and “what stirs your passion to start this?” All these questions and much more are legit questions. I have answered some directly, others I have not had the opportunity until now. I have decided therefore, to openly address and answer these questions here and why it is important to speak my African language, which in my case is Yoruba.

What is the problem? Why promoting speaking Yoruba language?

The need to start an online tutoring came out of my passion to see children and young adults of Nigerian Yoruba parentage born in diaspora speak Yoruba language as so many of these children and young adults are not able to speak their parents’ language (Yoruba in this instance) due to some issues they unconsciously encountered at the time (some are still encountering) which in my opinion, centred around meeting their “belonging” needs as better explained in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Probable reasons?

At the time that these children (some now adults) were being raised in diaspora by their parents (one can go as far back as one likes; 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s), it was important to them then to have a sense of belonging (social) as this is one of the basic needs of any human being which in order to meet this need and have a sense of belonging (which their skin colour did not give them in predominantly white environment), many decided to ‘belong’ to the culture they found themselves in (through birth or otherwise).

This culture was also that of their school mates and friends and it also happened to be the prevailing and the ruling culture of their environment. (And to be honest, it is not easy to identify with a minority group with little or no power!)

During my research into writing my online Yoruba courses (www.laswel.com), I came across an article written by a professional; a specialist in her field who had  researched deeper into this issue in America and her own research was not just about Yoruba people only but AFRICANS in general. Below is an excerpt from the article.

The excerpt (Parents’ perspectives)

In “African Child Rearing in the Diaspora: A Mother’s Perspective” by Vivian Yenika-Agbaw, Ph.D., Dr. Agbaw wrote “Home language for ….parents remains a symbol of cultural survival, while school language is perceived as a means to an end – material survival. However, the transition between the home and school languages can be tenuous as well, as gradually some African children begin to regard the language spoken at home as inferior simply because many of their mainstream peers are unfamiliar with it”. (italic and bold mine).

So, while many of these children (silently) refused and rejected their parents’ language (in this instance, Yoruba) with little or no challenge nor any encouragement from their parents at this impressionable age and stage of their lives (perfect time to start building a child’s esteem to accept who they are), the parents too did not ‘push’ it as they too were either busy making a living or they silently agreed with their children (especially as they have come from a background that pride and encourage speaking in Queen’s English!) And so a generation of Nigerian Yoruba children were raised and almost lost to their parents language, Yoruba! (Needless to say that some are still being raised, but I will get to that later.)

But now…..

 That these children have become adults, and having ‘battled’ various challenges along the way in a culture they found themselves in; they are now much more ‘comfortable in their own skins’ as they have now fully accepted who they are for various reasons. Now, they suddenly wish they could speak their parents’ language, Yoruba.

Many of them really want to given the right support and have started  learning while some of the parents on their part now wished they had positively intervened during those years by speaking to their children in their native language, Yoruba as some of them have now been questioned by their adult children specifically about why they did not encourage them to speak Yoruba language when they were younger.

I believe that whilst one cannot turn back the clock, one does have the chance to review what happened in the past starting by trying to understand what caused or led the situation to the present, review and  decide on the way forward.

To be continued……

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