No doubt, children are a blessing to anyone who is lucky enough to have them. Oftentimes, parents talk about giving their children the best they can afford. Where matters concern the fruit of our loins, nothing is too much or beyond reach. Some even go the extent of borrowing or committing crimes just to satisfy the needs of their child, but many times parents and guardians forget that when it comes to raising children, money is not necessarily the most important factor. Inculcating the values of discipline, integrity, honesty, respect, self-confidence and an appreciation of their mother tongue (the focus of this piece) in our offspring doesn’t cost money.
It is a sad reality that our indigenous languages are dying. Our children cannot converse in their mother tongue and I blame no one else but parents for this regrettable trend. The elites especially are guilty of the warped mentality that an inability to speak ones local dialect translates to class! Many times, children are not spoken to in their local languages at home, and most primary schools do not offer any of our local languages as a subject, and so kids of nowadays only get introduced to their first language in secondary school, where it is sometimes even optional and by which time they are less likely to develop sufficient interest to enable them read or write it fluently.
Speaking “vernacular” as it is sometimes referred to has become nothing short of a taboo in many homes. Children are being raised to be monolingual. The “ajebutter” syndrome continues to threaten the survival of indigenous languages in Nigeria, which is quite unfortunate as UNESCO and various other studies have shown that contrary to what many believe, children who have their mother tongue as a medium of instruction, and experience English as a subject have higher cognitive development than those who are instructed in English. It shows a classic case of inferiority complex when parents spend thousands of dollars to ensure their wards get a good grasp of European languages but neglect to speak Yoruba, Igbo Or Hausa which comes at no cost to them! After all, most of these kids are not even fluent in English despite it being the only language they speak. Hence, a lose-lose situation.
Nowadays, it is considered “razz” to speak any of the local languages to a child talk less of encouraging them to speak it. We send our children to select schools home and abroad in the hope they would ditch their “crude” Nigerian accent for a “more refined and globally acceptable” one. It is a profound reflection of the slave mentality that so easily besets the black man. The irony of it all is that more often than not, the most fluent and eloquent men and women are those who have mastered the art of speaking their mother tongue and English; our lingua franca. The likes of Wole Soyinka and the late Chinua Achebe are known for their oratory prowess in English as well as Yoruba and Igbo respectively. As a matter of fact, studies have shown that children can grow up learning 3 to 4 languages from a very early childhood without getting confused. Where we got the twisted notion that proficiency in an indigenous language will hamper a child’s command of the English language or any other language for that matter beats me!
The English, French, Chinese, Spanish and Russians all speak their heritage languages as an official language, even though we may argue that the Nigerian society is more complicated, with over 500 languages – far higher than the number of languages spoken in any of the countries mentioned above. It was expedient that an official language be chosen to facilitate the linguistic and cultural unity of the country, hence the adoption of English, the language of our colonial masters. However, this further stresses the need to ensure that our individual/tribal languages do not go into extinction as they have become increasingly endangered.
I remember being tutored in the art of writing Yoruba properly (with the application of tone marks – a prerequisite for the correct pronunciation of words) by my dad even before I gained admission into high school. Before then my siblings and I were always encouraged to speak the language by both parents especially at home. They were cognizant of the fact that we didn’t have the option of learning it in school and so made sure that we were not lacking in that area of education at home. At the end of the day, I am definitely the better for it and proud that I can speak my language fluently (without my English suffering too), thanks to my parents.
Any knowledge acquired comes in handy at some point in life. The more languages a person speak, the greater their ability to communicate effectively with people of different tribes, races and tongues. When we encourage our children to learn to speak French and Spanish, let’s be sure that our own Igala, Edo and Calabar heritage languages aren’t taking the back seat. It’s a worthy legacy to bequeath to our children and posterity will thank us for it.
P.S: Wishing all the children all around the world who colour our world a very happy children’s day!