In 1999, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, proclaimed February 21st as the International Mother Language Day. The Day is set aside to celebrate all the languages spoken all over the world.
This is with the aim of promoting the right of the people to use indigenous languages otherwise known as mother-tongue, as means of encouraging integration in all aspects of public life, particularly in education.
The dictionary defines, mother-tongue as the language an individual learns to speak as a child. This is drawn from the belief that the mother is the first teacher available to the baby after birth. Therefore, whatever language the mother speaks is eventually passed on to the child.
In Nigeria and other countries across the world, the indigenous languages of the people are regarded as their mother tongues. Research has shown that people’s culture, tradition and values are best passed on from generation to generation using the mother-tongue.
It has however, become worrisome to many people across the world, Nigeria inclusive, the rate at which the mother-tongue otherwise known as the indigenous languages of the people are being threatened by foreign languages which are driving the indigenous language in extinction.
UNESCO and other development partners believe that the use of mother-tongue strengthens cooperation among people and contributes to attaining quality education for all.
It also builds inclusive knowledge societies, preserves cultural heritage, mobilizes political will and applies the benefits of science and technology to sustainable development.
But, the Executive Director, African Languages Technology Initiative, Professor Tunde Adegbola said despite the advantages the use of Mother-tongue provides for every society, it is unfortunate that Nigerians prefer to communicate in English Language.
“These adoption of the foreign language, English has become the language of opportunity, it has become the language of official job, the language of administration, the language of education and everybody tries to make his children English language, not knowing that a lot more important and fundamental things are already compromised.”
There are very many important values in our culture that cannot be expressed by any foreign language.
The Executive Secretary, Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council, NERDC, Professor Godswill Obioma pointed out that some elites who believe that conversing with their children in indigenous languages is old fashioned, have worsened the situation.
“Many parents, where our elites will not expose their children to their indigenous languages, it created problems, you see a grown up young girl and you ask where they come from, they will say ‘I come from Onitsha’ and when you say can you speak, they will say I can’t speak, I come from Lagos, not even Yoruba”.
Some parents explained to Ipledge2nigeria that they don’t communicate with their children in their indigenous languages because the schools they attend do not encourage them to speak their mother-tongues. Mrs Adeola Busari said the schools her children attend discourage the use of local dialects both in and out of school.
“In their school they speak more of English, so once they come home they speak English and I find it very difficult changing their language. I spend less than an hour with them in a day, they spend most of the hours in school, so when they go to school the next day, they will speak English from eight a.m to three p.m, so that is the challenge.”.
Engineer Emeka Obidike said the need for his children to be at par with other children made him adopt English language as his home’s official language.
“To be frank with you I converse with my children in English, I will say eighty percent and the reason for these, is that I want to see my kids marching up with their peers speaking very good English because nowadays if you notice, our children don’t know the difference between past tense and present tense, they mix the two up and I feel that teaching them English must not be left alone for their teachers, it has to start from home”.
Some parents however said that they communicate with their children in both English and their indigenous languages for the children not to lose their mother tongue.
For Prof Tunde Adegbola , Nigerian languages should be the language of education from birth to the elementary level to stop the languages from going into extinction and promote education for all.
“There was an experiment at Ife (Osun state) where Nigerian children were taught all subjects, science, mathematical and social studies in Yoruba language and they excel at the end of that programme.”
“Our children must learn our languages and use these languages in initial of basic education”.
“With this language, you have a culture, you have a tradition, a lot of things are being carried along in the language. It has been proved that children who start their education in their mother-tongue perform better in later and that is why we must not look down on our languages”
Professor Adegbola wants the society especially parents to wake up to their responsibility by imparting good morals and sound cultural values in their wards, so as to have well cultured children in the society in the nearest future.
“As a child that was growing up in our communities, we were taught so many things by way of proverbs, by way of wise saying, by way of affinity, honesty is the best policy.
We grew up with that from primary school, imbibe those aspects of our culture that changed the child, that make them of good breeding, such children among the Yoruba end up being described as “Omoluabi”, among the Igbos, they end up being described as “ezigbu nwa”, among the Hausa they end up being described as “Mutumi kirki”.
With the over five hundred indigenous languages in Nigeria, citing the research carried out by the Nigerian Educational and Research Council in 2012, it is obvious that the nation has enough mother-tongues to flaunt in the international community.
Preserving these languages from extinction is the responsibility of all Nigerians.