15 reasons why you should encourage and promote speaking your African language

15 reasons why you should encourage and promote speaking your African language

Finally …., having reviewed and written so much on why and what led to our African languages not being spoken as they should, I believe I should conclude by giving some reasons why we should speak our African languages more, because while researching ways to put my points across, I came across a website that gave 10 reasons why people should learn a foreign language in addition to theirs.

As you can see, the world around us is encouraging people to learn more languages apart from theirs, while I’m in fact doing the opposite; looking for ways to convince us of the need for our children to learn and speak our language. I have therefore come up with 15 reasons why we should ensure our children learn to speak our language from birth.

  1. You are helping to keep your African language alive and protect it from becoming listed as one of the endangered languages.

You may not know it, but “UNESCO has identified 2,500 languages which it claims are at risk of extinction” click here for more information. 

So speaking and ensuring your children speak your language will help ensure its posterity for another generation.

2. You authenticate and allow your children to accept who they are

You also might not think much of it, but as children are growing up not speaking their own language, you are unconsciously helping them to form the opinion that their language is not worth it or important enough if their parents will not speak or allow them to speak it, which can have an adverse effect on them as they would try to be or imitate who they are not. However, parents that speak their language to their children are imparting confidence in their children to accept and love who they are with grace and confidence to excel in life.

3. Speaking and allowing our children to speak our language shows we are proud of who we are

Speaking and allowing our children to speak our language puts no doubt in their minds of who they are and why they should be proud of their identity. But the question is, are we proud of who we are?

By not speaking our language for whatever reason may impart a different meaning to what we hope for to our children. I believe that speaking one’s language helps to declare one’s identity and gladly tell the world – this is me! One has an identity to be proud of and there is nothing wrong with that. This is what the world wants to see, someone that is proud of who they are.

4. Speaking one’s language gives a sense of belonging

The ability to speak ones language always give a sense of belonging that cannot be verbally expressed especially when one is away from their fatherland and by chance meet someone from their tribe or country that also speaks the language. There is an unspeakable bonding and a sense of belonging.

I know this as some years back, while a student in Russia, I met someone from The Republic of Benin where their only lingua Franca then was French while my country was and still is English. The only language we had in common was Yoruba as my fluency in Russian language at the time was not so good. However, an instant rapport developed when we discovered the two of us could speak Yoruba!

I have also had the opportunity of speaking to some young adults raised in the UK until adulthood that travelled to Nigeria about their experiences and almost all of them always wished they could speak their Nigerian language better and this language issue has actually spurred so many of them on to intensify their knowledge of their language.

5. We help our children become bilinguals (with less effort)

Speaking our language from birth to our children alongside our country’s lingua franca automatically makes them bilingual which we should be proud of and celebrate.  Being monolingual in one’s own birth country at the expense of one’s own language is not worth thinking about in this age where bilingualism (at least) is being promoted around the world.

6. Speaking your language to your children from birth help them to have a deeper understanding of the culture and the richness of the language

It is a fact that one can easily grasp the language and culture that one grows up in, the richness of the language, proverbs, idioms of expression including having a deeper understanding of the colloquial part of the language from just being raised from birth in the language environment which speaking the language away from its country of origin or learning it later can never fully impart.

For example, saying “am knackered” to a Londoner might be seeing as meaning “been tired” but when outside London, the meaning is not so and is rarely used and definitely not openly or among casual friends. How did I know this? I knew this the day I used this expression in Warrington (UK). All the indigenous English women there froze as this word is not openly used by them as in London (a more multiracial environment) where I ‘picked’ up this expression for tiredness. They later explained its real meaning which is so different to London’s interpretation! May I say here that despite their explanation, I still can’t fully relate to the enormity of their reaction which I think is due to the fact that I was not raised from birth in the English culture and cannot therefore fully relate to this expression’s meaning as there is nothing like that in the language of the culture that I was raised in as a child.

7. Enabling our children to speak our language from birth help them to know their language thoroughly and not in a haphazard manner.

 There are certain things you can say in one language that no amount of one’s knowledge of another language would help to fully express it like in its original language when the language has been learnt from childhood as mentioned above in the previous point (point 6). The issue now is that some of our young people (aged 16 – 25 years) nowadays do not understand or fully grasp simple proverbial sayings that they should have regularly come in contact with when they were between the age of 4 and 10 so that they would not be having problem with these now that they are in their teenage years. (Hopefully, things can still be turned around as we are now conscious of this issue).

8. Enabling our children to speak our language from birth will ensure they speak the language with the right intonation

It is important to emphasise this as a good reason as some parents are waiting for their children to grow up before they start to speak their African language which is wrong as these children end up speaking their parents language with a foreign intonation which I think is absurd as pressure is unknowingly been placed on these children to learn later what they ought to have acquired naturally from being exposed to so many speakers within their language environment.

I believe that it is not always easy to acquire the correct intonation for a language one’s someone is above certain age as shown by the clip below of Nathan Lugo, An American Puerto Rican who speaks Yoruba fluently with the right and perfect intonation. This not common no matter how much one tries. Nathan Lugo claimed he started learning when he was young and he apparently immersed himself in the language later by living and learning with the indigenous people in order for him to have acquired such perfect intonation.

 9. When you speak and allow your children to speak your language you inadvertently help to promote your language for others to want to learn

This is so true and can be evidenced as there are so many videos on YouTube and some also ‘flying’ around in WhatsApp where so many non Nigerians are showing off their knowledge of our languages which I think should make us proud and encourage us to embrace and speak our language more to our children which would inadvertently help to keep our languages alive.

Below is a video of our Ọọ̀ni of Ifẹ́, Ọba Adéyẹyè Ẹnitàn Ògúnwùsí, holding an interesting conversation with a white woman in Yoruba language.

10. Speaking one’s language helps one to become an expert (or almost) in one’s language and culture even if one is not able to write it.

Although writing one’s  language does not make one an ‘expert’, speaking it does to an extent as one is able to explain the logic or reasoning behind certain words, expressions and actions and so on while being able to write it helps tremendously in this computer age and generation.

11. Enabling our children to speak our language protect them from being ‘sold’ or taken advantage of within their own community

Imagine people talking about someone in their presence without them knowing even though this person has always lived in this community with parents that speak the language, which may even be the predominant language in the area. How would anyone like that? If no one would, we better change our attitude to our language and ensure we speak our language to our children from birth so no one would take advantage of them.

12. Allowing our children to speak our language helps to eliminate fake pride and self-importance

which prevails at the moment among some of our young people as some have equated their inability to speak our language as a thing of pride and importance!

13. Our children’s brain power is boosted or increased

The act of ensuring our children speak our language from birth while learning to speak our country’s lingua Franca is considered to help them increase their brain power. You can click here to read further on this.

14. It helps the children to become more humane and sympathetic towards the plight of the society rather than distancing themselves from it

as some of these young people seem to be doing now as mentioned above (see point 12).

15. Allowing our children to speak our language at home and around us shows them we have respect and love for ourselves…

our society and our GOD who made us who we are.

I believe there is still time to turn things around if we really truly want to individually which would impact us all collectively!

Why are Africans abandoning their languages? – Part 3

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.

Professionals’ opinions

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.

 

In conclusion

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.

Positively Naija

 

Adé

(1, and 3 – Extracted from Financial Times UK; Weekend: 24th & 25th September 2016)

Why are Africans abandoning their languages? – Part 2

Demystifying speaking ‘The Queen’s English’

Picking up from the last time where I started on the issue of our obsession with English language at the detriment of our own African languages (in this instance, Yoruba), one of the subtle or subconscious reasons in my opinion is our claim  and pride over the years of our desire to speak or our claim to speak “The Queen’s English” which I would now like to look at as this claim in my opinion, is not only wrong but it’s helping to  unconsciously still tie us to the colonial regime which at least two-third of Nigerians alive today only read about, meaning that this claim was passed down from past generations. I honestly believe that it’s high time we stopped using this expression and take pride in the fact that we have coined our own version of English language, which is Nigerian English.

‘The Queen’s English’ – What does this mean?

“The Queen’s English” is defined by Oxford dictionary as “The English language as written and spoken correctly by educated people in Britain” it is also described elsewhere as “…‘posh’…English accent spoken by the royal family and other members of the upper classes in the UK. It is an accent which fascinates many non-native speakers…..” (Read more here). How true this is!

Are English accents the same everywhere? 

It is also worth noting that English accents even within the UK are very different depending on which part of the country, not to mention between other different English speaking countries like America, Canada, New Zealand and so on.

With this in mind, it is therefore a sort of delusion, if we think we speak “The Queen’s English” as

  • The way we use some words in our sentences and other grammatical expressions are not the same as the British English
  • Our pronunciation of many words are not the same (Leicester, Arsenal etc.) despite hearing it over and over again
  • Our tones and intonations are Nigerians even with all the new technologies at our disposal
  • “Additionally, some new words and collocations have emerged from the language, which come from the need to express concepts specific to the culture of the nation (e.g.senior wife” (Source: Wikipedia) and so on.

And there is no reason why our accents should be the same! Nigerian accent is Nigerians while British accent is British. Of course, we all (British, Nigerian etc.) do have to modify our tones to a degree to ensure we can understand each other whether British, Nigerian or Canadian for that matter.

 

Speaking ‘The Queen’s English’ and ensued issues

  This pride in relation to speaking The Queen’s English has brought about two-fold issues in my observation, the first being that, it has created so many accents within our Nigerian society. For instance,  you get to hear so many different English accents especially among the young ones in their 20’s and 30’s in their bid to “speak The Queen’s English”. One wonders which one is Nigerian as there are so many and it makes it sometimes impossible to even understand what some people are saying.

Ikeja Airport experience

Here’s an example to illustrate my point. Sometimes ago I was at Ikeja Airport, waiting for my flight to be called. While waiting, I realised that I could not understand what was being announced over the PA system by a female voice. In order not to miss my flight, I kept close to a nearby reception desk where I kept asking for what was said whenever this individual made an announcement. I believe I would have probably missed my flight were it not for the help of the other lady at the reception desk as I just could not understand this supposed ‘posh accent’ which was not the typical Nigerian English accent I am used to.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m aware that there are so many regions in Nigeria which could affect some people’s intonation, but not to the extent that this lady’s tone’s modification was as it gave a different impression as someone trying hard to be who they are not.

Some Nigerians outside of Nigeria

The other side of this delusion is about those that have left the shore of Nigeria; they are living outside of Nigeria (UK, America, Canada etc.,) and are either emulating or trying to emulate the white so badly that one wonders why especially if they had been known to speak differently when in Nigeria or few years back before.

Be the best of you!

Now, the irony of this desire and penchant for “Queen’s English” is that the same people you want to copy or emulate would rather prefer you to be yourself. For some years now, the British (I am sure that similar acts would be found be in America, Canada or Australia) have been encouraging and helping other cultures to promote their cultures and languages. They support charitable organisations (NGOs) that are promoting their languages and cultures.  Some are even learning our languages (see the inscription on this photo), but it seems we are not ‘getting’ it yet as we are still engrossed with being like them when we are being asked to be our better self!

 

             

English speaking countries around the world

I believe it’s time we took pride in our own Nigerian English and ourselves just as the Americans, the Canadians and the Australians have coined their own English and are very proud of who they are. I believe that they also went through some of this dilemma that we are going through; after all, the term “cultural cringe” has its origin in Australia and history would bear me record that America, Canada and Australia have some of their roots from Britain, therefore, I believe that it’s high time we detached ourselves from colonialism cord and embrace our uniqueness as a multi-lingua society.

Borrow a leaf from Canada?

Just to say that it is fascinating to know that Canada is officially bilingual (English and French) and it is acceptable to speak any of these two languages in the country and I’m thinking, why not us, why can’t we do something slightly similar, why can’t we be bilingual in each state officially as we are already doing unofficially?

I am aware of various states and federal governments’ efforts in encouraging this but it seems people are not listening or grasping what is going on. I do not think everything can be legislated. Certain things have to come from people’s understanding before they can fully ‘buy’ into it, and helping to see the need to change and ‘buy’ into this idea is the purpose of this blog.

The question now is why can’t we enjoy speaking our GOD given languages with ourselves (this includes enabling our children to speak our language from birth) and with the world? Why not?

It’s just a thought!