A generation ago in this country when public schools were still being run effectively, most children would start school at age six having spent the first six years at home learning from their parents and largely speaking their indigenous or native language. That is no longer the case now particularly in the urban areas. Due to socio-economic demands, school now starts at or before age two with pre-nursery and nursery and our children are being deprived of some homely informalities that are not so easy to catch up with later in life.
Deprivation comes for instance in the area of knowledge of the indigenous language. Back then, the native language was the acquired language of the child learnt and spoken informally till age six before being formally introduced to English Language in school. Now, the acquired language for most children in the urban area has become English, which makes it difficult to grasp the native language. Today’s children in our cities don’t speak our language again because there is little or no attention paid to it.
Having the native language as the learnt rather than the acquired is having a toll on the embrace of our language and thus culture. And if care is not taken, our native languages may go extinct in the next two generations. How? There are three things one does with a language: understand it, express it and impart it. A generation or two ago, the adults then could understand, express and impart the native language to the younger generation. At the present, that young generation then and adult now can still understand and express the local language to an appreciable level but cannot so much impart it to their children. Thus, the young generation now can scarcely understand, are finding it hard to express and cannot get to impart the language in the future. Project to the next generation, and we will have adults that can hardly understand and express, let alone imparting the language. Guess their own children’s understanding of the local language! Almost nil. Project for one more generation and the native language would have almost been lost totally.
Such a gloomy forecast regarding the indigenous languages for the next two generations should be of great concern to all and sundry because of the doom it spells. If we lose our local language, we will in turn lose our culture, and once we lose our culture, we lose our identity as a people. Once identity is lost, we will have nothing of our own to uniquely express and showcase to the world. We will become second rate citizens in our own land and sphere living on borrowed ideologies that don’t necessarily fit our clime and become a subject of foreign philosophies of countries and people that never joke with their own language and culture. Our culture for instance puts value on morals and respect. So, the more we neglect our language, the more our culture with its moral value gets eroded as we copy fads and trends alien to who we really are. Should we embrace civilisation at such a huge cost, losing our real selves along the way? Not at all!
But can this situation be salvaged? Well, only if this adult generation particularly parents and educators will wake up to the imminent danger it poses and seriously work on reversing the trend. Already, there have been genuine concerns raised on this issue in certain quarters and there have been some recommendations made but some of those suggested solutions come with unresolved problems if applied as they are apparently too bogus to implement or too drastic to be anywhere being effective in the immediate. One solution suggested is that subjects should taught in the native language to preserve the language and culture. For that to happen, we will immediately need a new teaching workforce with proficiency in the native language as qualification as a lot of current teachers are themselves strugglers in expressing and imparting in the local language. Then, we will need to come up with a whole vocabulary for terms and terminologies for different topics and subjects. While the idea is noble and may be the ultimate goal, we are not just ready for it now.
In trying to tackle this serious challenge threatening our future as a people, the first step should be to accept the rude reality that the native language has been subtly replaced by English as the child’s acquired language, particularly in our urban areas. Parents speak English to the child because they erroneously feel the child is better off with English Language and educators take it from there doing the same. So, if such a child is going to learn the native language in primary and secondary schools, they should learn in relation to the acquired English Language. Trying to learn a language in isolation the way most schools and textbooks suggest cannot work for these children because there is no background for such. In a special report on education in Nigeria titled, Rethinking Education, released in 2016 and in an article titled, The Need for Conceptualised Learning in Schools, published on this page the same year, I shared on how the essence of learning must always be creatively showcased by a learner-friendly concept in order to impact on the bottom line of assimilation and digest. Through conceptualising, a teaching method needs to be developed such that the to-be-learnt local language is communicated in relation to the acquired English Language. This may not be the ideal but due to the situation we have found ourselves, it will be far more effective in helping our children develop their vocabulary in the native language.
Aside from classroom teaching, there is a need for a general reorientation for the whole populace about reviving our languages, and who does that better than the government because it has all the apparatus and resources to make such happen. In that same Rethinking Education report of 2016, I recommended mass mobilisation as a major tool for reorienting and stimulating the public to embrace the cause of education. Nothing really can stop a message free of propaganda and strategically passed across over time from having effect on its target, influencing their thinking, opinion and behaviour. May I state that the success in the area of education of the UPN-led governments between 1979 and 1983 in the South-West Nigeria was not so much of the free education provided but the effective mass mobilisation that accompanied the whole package, the campaign on radio so loud and consistent, tingling noise to the ears butchering music to the heart. Today’s government have more media outlets and better reach with more radio and TV stations and also have the social media to launch a campaign that can peradventure revive education and the place of our local languages in it.
The resultant effect of this mass campaign will be a fresh embrace of our language and culture. Depending on how loud and effective it is, it will be a wake-up call for parents to stop relegating the local language for English while raising their children. It will inform educators to adopt an effective teaching method to communicate the indigenous language in a way today’s students can grasp. If the momentum it builds is sustained, the effect will go beyond basic education. It will make us to once again believe in everything that is our own. We will be able to hold on to our identity as people and even begin to showcase that identity for posterity. We will begin to sell the products of our culture to the world like many Asian countries have done, coming from behind decades back to build their society. The Chinese language for instance is playing a role in the country being an economic giant in the world today. The sport we know as Taekwondo was originally a local sport from Korea. By the natives’ belief in the sport and their culture, it was sold to the world until it became an Olympic sport in 2000. Today, even our children here have Taekwondo class in school. What happened to our own local sports?
Reviving such general interest in our indigenous languages to bring about socio-economic gain as described may be perceived in some quarters as going against the tide of civlisation. But that view is myopic because every establishment needs its cutting edge to fully maximise opportunities presented by developmental changes in its world. Every nation or culture has intrinsic values that can be showcased to bring huge dividends. And the local language is a main vehicle for sustaining cultural heritage. The Asian nations have proven it. Indigenous language and culture are instruments for nation building. When civilisation is blended into the people’s culture, it tends to bring remarkable advancement. When culture is foreign and borrowed, it tends to crush collective identity which may take something in the mould of a revolution to revive.