Nigeria is a country with more than 300 ethnic groups. All these ethnic groups have great cultures, traditions and beautiful unique languages. It is therefore saddening that we are letting our heritage, particularly our languages die away. It is a common sight to see children who live in Nigeria but cannot even pronounce one correct word of their native language and to make matters worse, time and resources are expended for them to learn French, Spanish and other “exotic languages”.
I am guilty of the same offense because my children understand some of the basics of French (from school), Spanish (courtesy of Dora the explorer), but hardly make out the basic words in Yoruba. The best response I get is from my second son who seems to grab a few words but says to the others “mummy that is so funny”. He finds Yoruba funny, but not French.
In talking to other parents, I found out that this is an epidemic and if things continue the way they are going, English will become our native language and none of our children will be able to identify with their roots. The parents I spoke to had varied reasons for the language gap:
A woman I spoke to actually believed it was something of pride that her children do not speak their native language. The most baffling part was that she was saying this in the native language she didn’t want the children to speak! Are we not doing our children a disservice if we won’t let them speak an indigenous language so that the family can appear “tush”?
I actually believe it is a plus for the children to learn as many languages as they can, in addition to the native language. Some African Americans I know, would gladly give anything to have what we have while we are throwing away what we have to be like them!
Another parent said she was under the impression that since the native language is the mother tongue; her baby would be born with the innate ability to speak the language. Research has shown that usage and experience play a major role in the ability of children to learn languages (Nicole Mahoney). They have to hear the language repeatedly to be able to speak it which is why they learn English so easily. They speak it in School, hear it in church, listen to it on television and radio, hear it from their parents, nannies, friends etc. little wonder, it is becoming our lingua franca.
Some parents were of the view that their kids (aged between 2-5 years) were too young to learn the language. Recent studies have shown that the best time for a child to learn a language is from birth till 4 years. Within those ages, they learn the language effortlessly because then everything is an adventure, they are learning so many new things at the same time and the language just happens to be one of them. My children speak English very well and I have never sat down with them to teach them to speak it, all I did was correct their tenses when wrongly used. How did it then become so ingrained in them that they speak it so well? According to Kotulak, a baby’s brain will discard the ability to speak in languages he or she does not hear.
Fear of an Accent:
There is also the fear that if the children start speaking the language, they will have the same accents their parents have which they are trying so hard to correct. Whilst this may not be totally unfounded, still I ask the question, and so what? What if they have an accent? Germans, French, Russians, Mexicans, Italians and all the other people with the exotic languages we love so much, have an accent (some women even find those accents endearing, why not ours?)
Too much work:
It is not easy teaching a language especially where the child is older but I want to believe it is worth the effort. In conducting the research for this article, I learned that a child needs to hear/speak a language 30% of his waking hours for it to make a difference. They require consistency and dedication on the part of their parents and with time, they will get comfortable with the language.
So what is your own reason for not letting your children speak your language?
Our parents gave us the gift of having an identity, meeting people and conversing in a language other than English. A language that doesn’t make you worry about your tenses, punctuation’s, phonics, intonations etc. Why don’t we give our children the same privilege? If we let them, our children have the ability to speak as many Nigerian and foreign languages as they are exposed to and they will be better off for it.
…in my opinion.