Languages, with their complex implications for identity, communication, social integration, education and development, are of strategic importance for people and planet. Yet, due to globalization processes, they are increasingly under threat, or disappearing altogether. When languages fade, so does the world’s rich tapestry of cultural diversity. Opportunities, traditions, memory, unique modes of thinking and expression — valuable resources for ensuring a better future — are also lost.
International Mother Language Day has been observed every year since February 2000 to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.
Languages are the most powerful instruments of preserving and developing our tangible and intangible heritage. All moves to promote the dissemination of mother tongues will serve not only to encourage linguistic diversity and multilingual education but also to develop fuller awareness of linguistic and cultural traditions throughout the world and to inspire solidarity based on understanding, tolerance and dialogue. Today, Wednesday February 21st, 2018 UNESCO celebrates IMLD 2018 on the theme “preserving linguistics diversity and promoting multilingualism to support SDGs. The overall objective of this day is to contribute to promoting global citizenship education.
The UN believes that to foster sustainable developments, learners must have access to education in their mother tongue and in other languages. It is through the mastery of the first language or mother tongue that the basic skills of reading, writing and numeracy are acquired, local languages, especially minority and indigenous transmit cultures, values and traditional knowledge, thus playing an important role in promoting sustainable futures. International Mother Language Day also supports target 6 of Goal 4 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): “Ensure that all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy.
According to the UN, more than 50 per cent of the approximately 7,000 languages spoken in the world are likely to die out within a few generations, and 96 per cent of these languages are spoken by a mere 4 per cent of the world’s population. Only a few hundred languages have genuinely been given pride of place in education systems and the public domain, and less than a hundred are used in the digital world.
Myschoolarena spoke with Mother Language educators/experts to get their own view on the need for Mother Languages to be taught in schools to avoid a death of the language.
In the discussion with Maazi Chigozie Bright Nnabuihe, Phd, Associate Prof, Dept of Igbo/Linguistics, University of Lagos, he strongly stated that the Igbo Language is not dying or nearing extinction, although he confesses that it may not be as strong as we would want it to be, but the language is not endangered. This is because it does not fall within the parameters of endangered languages:
- An endangered language should not have up to 5,000 speakers- The Igbo Language has over 35,000 people who speak it. Students who write the Igbo Language in external exams such as WAEC are up to 5000. While in NCE and University level, students who study Igbo Language as a course are not less than 10,000.
- It should have not literature written in it- The Igbo Language has over 50 works written in literature, over 20 in Poetry, over 30 works written in Drama.
Thus the language isn’t even close to extinction.
When asked if subjects in schools should be taught in the Mother Language, and from what level, he strongly suggests the use of the Igbo language to teach. The teacher teaches in Igbo Language and explains in the English Language. He believes that starting from the Nursery level helps the child absorb easily and develop their intellectual capabilities. He also reaffirmed Socrates’ belief that ‘one expresses one’s self in one’s own language’. To him, students can gain over 80% knowledge of everything in the Nursery level if he is taught in his language, because at that age, he absorbs easily and the essence is to nurture the child.
On the challenges of teaching and learning the Igbo Language, Maazi Nnabuihe has this to say ‘’ The environment is the challenge. A students who learns in with the English Language in class, and plays and communicates with his friends in English Language during break, worships in English Language in church, it will be difficult to still retain the use of his Mother Language because the consistency in the use of his Mother Language is low.
Another challenge is negative attitude. The attitude of some foreigners compounded by the self-abnegation of most parents kindles a spirit of hatred in the child towards his mother tongue. Having being brainwashed from the cradle that the mother tongue is inferior compared to a foreign language, he leaves home for school with that impression. When an Ogori-Magongo child is brought up to view his mother tongue as a curse or a thing devoted to evil because his parents have anathemized it, he dreads it in school as a means of instruction or subject of study, and he grows to find that he cannot assimilate properly the choice language of his family whether as a foreign or native language, the implication is that he ends up hanging on with no formal identity’’.
Teaching with the Mother Language can be effective to National Development, because for Nigeria to be able to ensure national unity, mutual co-existence, peaceful democratic living and development, she has to enhance the development of Mother Languages. Thus, every Nigerian child should be encouraged to love and respect the cultural heritage of his people and the natural expression of the heritage which is language. Maazi Nnabuihe recommends that state legislative bodies should introduce, debate and pass laws making the use of the mother tongue in their states as medium of instruction in state schools compulsory. Also let employments be offered to indigenes based on proficiency in both the spoken and written versions of these languages. Actions should be hastened to provide for mother tongues in Nigeria, befitting orthographies, meta-language manuals to enhance their speedy developments. He advised that individuals should purge themselves of all negative views about their mother tongue. Families too should put off the garb of arrogating everything evil to the native languages which are the languages of the environment they live in. Federal, State, and Local Governments should assist in the development of the mother tongue by making funds available to institutions and willing indigenes who volunteer to work and train more workers in this regard.
With an awakened interest, people will participate. With an active participation more results will be recorded in getting persons with competence such as teachers, translators, writers and researchers for the purpose of gathering required data needed to write and produce books, journals and other relevant materials that enhance language studies. When this is in progress, people will begin to get re-orientated, their moral and ethical characters will change for there to be a better society. With a better society in place, leaders of the nation will have less to worry about in terms of crime fighting and crisis management, and as a result, unity, peace and progress will flourish. A crime free society is an enabling factor the nation needs to pursue her developmental plans in her bid to attain industrialization.
Mr Oluwatoyin Damilola Aiyejuni, a Yoruba teacher in St. Margaret Comprehensive College, Agboju revealed that he first taught the Yoruba Language in his 3rd level Teaching Practise Program in the University.
He expressed the need to teach students in the Mother Language from the Nursery Level as it will help them learn and understand well. So that by the time they get to the Secondary School level, they would have gotten their bearing in the Language. Although he confessed it may be difficult to achieve in Lagos state, because the state has a mixture of students across various tribes and languages. It can be achieved if every student learns the different languages at the same time, it will prepare them for wherever they will be in the future.
A major challenge he faces teaching the Yoruba Language is the high influx of Igbo students in his school. Teaching the Yoruba Language in an Igbo populated environment he encountered a lot of difficulty, and thus had to employ the use of songs for learning the Alphabets, Days of the Week, months of the Year, etc, and using teaching aids and materials like drums to encourage them and pique their interest. The end result was a huge success in Yoruba language at the WAEC external exams.
Another challenge is the attitude of some parents who only want their children to learn exotic languages like French, German to the detriment of the mother language.
Mr Aiyejuni recommends that Television and Radio programs should be produced in the Yoruba Language to encourage and teach students watching and listening. He also appeals to film makers to produce movies that are rich in the culture and tradition of the language for students to watch and learn. Citing examples of ‘Ogo Omo Odua’ showing in African Magic Family.
Mr Aiyejuni also believes that learning in the Mother Tongue can be effective in National Development because language is a part of communication, and successful communication helps to ensure smooth flow of work.