The Nigerian Children And Their Mother Tongue

Language learning is a continuous process that occurs during childhood. It is the responsibility of every parent to create an environment for their children to learn and speak in their native language. While being able to communicate in English is an essential skill that is needed in today’s modern world, the ability to speak his/her native language is important to a child’s identity.

Nowadays, the average Nigerian parent is no longer worry about their child’s inability to speak their native language. It is quite common to see children who cannot even have a simple conversation in their mother tongue. The only language the children understand is English. This is a sad development as our rich culture and history may wear away. When children cannot converse in their mother tongue, it is also an indication that they will be unable to pass on this heritage to their children and grandchildren.

Mother tongue is a language original to human community usually offer to future generations by parents as an heritage. Speaking such a language goes a long way to show that an individual is a true descendant of a particular community. Most Nigerian parents had refused to teach the use of these indigenous languages.

The mother tongue confer cultural identity to the speaker with messages about tradition and customs which cannot easily be transferred through another language.

Mother tongue enables children to interact and adjust well into their native communities. By speaking their mother tongue, children come to share the wisdom of the forefathers.

A couple of weeks ago, I visited a friend, on getting to the gate, her children rushed out to greet me, Aunty Edith, welcome. In my usual way, I asked them, how they were faring in my mother tongue, the elder child which is 9 years old stared at me and smiled, followed by the other two of his siblings. On getting to the house, I continued the conversation, asking them how they are coping with their studies but all I got from the conversation was just smile from my friend’s kids. I became inquisitive to know what must had being going on in the house, asked the children, if their parent do speak their native language to them. The elder son replied Aunty, sometimes not every time. I was shocked at the answer; the young man gave to me. I waited for their mother (my friend) to come back from where she went for shopping to unleash my anger on her.

When she came back, I expressed my shock and anger on how the children cannot have a simple conversation in their native language; that what I saw in her house was not funny at all. That her children did not even understand “how are you coping with your studies in their mother tongue”. She smiled and said “my sister, I don’t even have time for myself talkless of sitting down to teach the children our native language. I told her, if you don’t teach your children their mother tongue, your children will be sold by their kinsmen.

In course of discussion with my kid brother, he told me something that shocked me down to my marrow. He happened to work in one of the foreign companies in Port Harcourt. He said when their company machine got spoiled and some experts were called in for installation of another machine. In order for the Nigerian workers not to understand how they do installed and maintain the machine, the programme or instruments on how to install was written in their foreign language instead of English language which was generally understood by everybody including the Nigerian staff. Assuming, those experts did not know anything about their native language, what would have been their fate?

A lot of parents complain that their children do not understand their native languages, but they make no effort to teach them or speak to them in their mother tongue. They should encourage their children through the following:

They should encourage our children to converse in our native languages, by communicating with them with it. You can ask your children about their day or talk to them at the dinner table in your language. Encourage them to greet in your native tongue and teach them the importance of them knowing their language. When you talk to them in your language, let them know that they can only reply you in that your language for example Ogoni or Akwa Ibom and not English.

Children love music, you can play music by popular artists in your language, in your car or at home. This way you allow them to learn, sing and dance in your native tongue.

To help your children understand your native tongue, you should immerse them in your culture. There are many children who have been brought up in the city that don’t even know where their hometown is. The ultimate language boost for your child is to visit the place where it is spoken. Encourage your children to spend their school holidays with their grandparents or other relatives in your town of origin. Total interest for a couple of weeks can have an amazing effect.

A lot of Nigerian children learn their native languages during childhood through househelps or nannies. Because some of these people come straight from villages, they may be unable to converse in English, so your child is forced to communicate in your native tongue. Encourage your domestic staff or visiting family members to only speak your native language to your child. You will be amaze how the children will pick up with your native language.

Besides the effort of the parents, the government should endeavour to promote the use and development of native languages in each of the languages because there lie the opportunity to achieve sustainable development for the country.

As a nation, we need not ignored the opportunity of using our mother tongue to raise our children. If we continued to neglect the mother tongue, we might be doing so at our own risk. ###


Edith Nse Friday



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