Popularising speaking of indigenous languages

February 21 of every year is celebrated as International Mother Language Day. It is held worldwide to create awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and to promote multilingualism.

It was approved at the 1999 UNESCO General Assembly, and observed throughout the world since 2000.

UNESCO says that globally, 40 per cent of the population does not have access to an education in a language they speak or understand.

“Nevertheless, progress is being made in mother tongue-based multilingual education with growing understanding of its importance, particularly in early schooling, and more commitment to its development in public life.’’

Late South African leader, Nelson Mandela, underscored the importance of mother language in his now famous word on the marble:  “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head, if you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.’’

It was to popularise mother tongue, that the study of one indigenous language was incorporated into the 6-3-3-4 education system.

However, that programme is being hampered by shortage of teachers in indigenous languages.

Mrs Ndidi Aimienwawu, a former Director-General, Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilisation, had emphasised the need to popularise the speaking and study of indigenous languages through sustained public enlightenment.

She said that this should be done through the staging of children’s cultural festivals, where folklore, dance, drama, among others in indigenous language would feature.

” Language serves as a strong means of communication in every society and as a vehicle of reaching every strata of the community,’’ she said.

Aimienwawu urged other ethnic groups to promote their languages through the Lagos State approach.

During former Gov. Akinwunmi Ambode administration, Lagos State introduced the “ Yoruba Language Preservation and Promotion Law.’’

Under the law, the teaching of Yoruba language was made compulsory in both private and public schools in the state.

The law also mandates all state-owned tertiary institutions to integrate the use of the language as a course unit into their General Nigeria Studies ( GNS).

Mrs Ndubusi Nweke, an Igbo language teacher in the FCT, said that if children are taught in their indigenous languages from nursery classes, they would be fluent in the languages.

“As an Igbo language teacher,I emphasise the need to the students to speak the language.

“I also encourage them to communicate with me in the language; if you are my student, you must greet me in Igbo, otherwise I won’t respond.’’

Nweke suggested that fluency in indigenous languages should be criteria for getting a job, and that specific days should be set aside for wearing of native dresses nationwide.

“In schools there should be awards for students who speak local dialects effortlessly, ‘’ she further suggested.

Mrs Yetunde Femi, a Yoruba language teacher, listed the challenges of teaching the subject in the FCT.

“Most of them can understand the language, but cannot speak; my children too can understand, but cannot speak, but am trying hard to ensure that they speak the language.’’

Mrs Joy Ferdinand, an English language teacher, stressed the need to create awareness on the importance of mother tongue.

“Coincidentally, the school just held one last week, where we tried to pass a message across with the theme, `My Language, My Identity.’

“If you ask a student, they’ll tell you they understand, but they can’t speak; yes, the compulsory language courses are still ongoing in public schools, but it’s mostly for arts students because they need it as an elective.’’

“Science students don’t offer languages, and commercial students too, but it’s very important.

“My husband is not from my ethnic group, the children can speak my language, but can’t speak their daddy’s  language, and that is a problem.

“ There is not enough awareness about the importance of speaking our local languages,’’ she said.

Dr Ijeoma Okonkwo, Director of God’s Anointed Schools , Abuja, says parents should ensure their children speak their native languages fluently.

“The Education Board made it compulsory for private schools to choose one indigenous language for the students in secondary schools and the school picked Igbo language.

She called on the government to also make languages compulsory in the primary schools.

Okonkwo said that literature written in local languages should also be encouraged.

Mrs Magdalene Ukwuedojor, a journalist, said that inter-ethnic  marriages were major  factor  impeding promotion of indigenous languages.

‘’Although it is good because Nigeria is a multicultural country, but is affecting the children, because the new generation cannot speak local languages.’’

There is this erroneous belief, that if a child starts speaking local language, the child won’t speak English well.

‘’I personally can read and write in my language, and also read novels because my parents insisted on that.

Ukwuedojor also identified inadequate local language teachers as a major problem.

She said that there should be massive recruitment of indigenous language teachers, adding that people should not look down on them.

Aisha Salisu, a journalist of the Fulani ethnic stock, said she cannot speak Fulfulde, the Fulani language.

She said that her parents communicate in Fulfulde among themselves and not with the children.

“In school, when we were asked to pick an elective, I picked French.’’

Salisu attributed her ability to speak the local language to the environment she grew up.

“We started from Lagos and we were the only Fulani people around our area, so that has contributed to my inability to speak the Fulani language,’’ she said.

The International Mother Language Day is just a reminder to stakeholders to come out with programmes that would promote the speaking and embracing of indigenous languages.

 Patricia Amogu writes for NAN

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