The Benefits of Retaining Our Mother Tongue

The Benefits of Retaining Our Mother Tongue

By Khadija Abdullahi Iya
“Kewonan,” I said, greeting my friend’s little daughter in my native dialect.
But she replied me in English so I asked the mother why.
“She understands the language, but speaking it is her problem,” her mother explained. “Then stop speaking English to her,” I advised.
“Because she is at the stage in life where learning her mother tongue is vital, and if she loses her grip of it, it would be very difficult for her as she advances in age.”
“What about you?” The mother shot back. “Your kids speak English too.” “As a matter of fact, my children do, but my husband has banned English speaking at home now,” I informed her.
“He told them ‘If you can’t speak Nupe, keep quiet.’” Right now, I’m a more serious advocate of the speaking of one’s mother tongue. It gives us a base to develop our language skills.
After all, why should we rob our own children of the benefits it offers?
Sonorous lullabies it is present in the cooing of the mother; those words she articulates daily and the songs that she sings to the unborn child.
The mother tongue is the first set of words babies hear as they make their grand entrance into the world.
It is what guides a child’s psychological, mental and emotional development as he or she progresses into adulthood.
The lullabies and lyrics of the songs the mother sings as she gently bathes the baby sets the tone for the kind of journey through life the baby will take. When a child reaches a certain stage in life, if he or she is not properly grounded in their local dialect, exposure to the outside world could make him/her lose it.
From experience, my kids started having issues with speaking Nupe fluently by the time they started school. What you stand for When God decided to create languages, He didn’t create it to divide us or seclude us from others, nor did He say one language is superior to the other, just as we have made the English language more superior to our own language.
The Englishman will never speak your language, except if it is absolutely necessary.
And if he does, he does not give up on his own mother tongue.
God made every language spoken on earth to represent a certain group of people. Why then are we in a hurry to kill ours?
Indoctrinating your children to speak someone else’s language rather than yours is a sure way of making them feel inferior of their identity, and robs them of what they stand for.
The utmost responsibility of any parent is to preserve his identity and pass it down to the younger generation.
“When a person speaks his mother tongue, there is a direct connection between the heart, brain and tongue. Our personality, character, modesty, shyness, defects, skills, and all other hidden attributes become truly meaningful because the sound of the mother tongue in the ear and its meaning in the heart give us trust and confidence,” said Hurisa Guvercin, a special education teacher.
In ka bar gida, gida ya barka (if you abandon home, home would abandon you) is a Hausa adage that institutes the importance of the mother tongue, our culture, and everything that inherently defines us. Our intrinsic communication tool Alice Mado Prover bio, a professor of cognitive electrophysiology at the Milano-Bicocca University in Milan, stated that the brain absorbs the mother tongue at a time when it is also storing early visual, acoustic, emotional and other nonlinguistic knowledge.
This means that the native language triggers a series of associations within the brain that show up as increased electrical activity.
“Our mother tongue is the language we use to think, dream and feel emotion,” Prover bio added. Having a solid foundation in our first language gives us a basis to learning more languages, helping children to develop stronger literacy skills in the school language, because children’s literacy knowledge and abilities transmits across languages from mother tongue to the language the child is learning at school.
When children continue to develop their abilities in two or more languages throughout their primary school years, they gain a deeper coherence of language, gradually acquiring knowledge about how it can be maneuvered and applied in various ways. Mother tongue, a tool for expanded language skills during his tenure as the education minister in the late 1980s, Prof. Babs Fafunwa ensured that every student studied a Nigerian language.
He quoted from a study conducted then that showed students would learn better if they were taught all subjects in their mother tongue and would develop better language skills if they explored the similarities and differences between languages.
Unfortunately for many bilingual children who have little mother tongue support at home, once they start school their mother tongue is gradually replaced by the majority or dominantly used language, especially in the early school years. This has happened too many in Nigeria.
One of my colleagues confirmed that his language of Igbo is near extinct because many of his people refuse to speak it anymore and adopt English instead.
It is even sadder that some of these people hardly even possess a good grasp of the English language they’ve idolised.
“I don’t think the Igbos are as bad as my Nupe people,” I told him. Especially, my people that stay in places like Kaduna and Kano, most have completely abandoned their native language and their children are confused as to where they come from. Many adopted Hausa as their mother tongue, which has displaced them of their identity, their culture and who they really are. Understanding our mother tongue has become as vital as the oxygen we breathe. It is all about us. It is sad that some parents and educators are of the opinion that for children to learn a second language quickly and succeed at school, children should speak only the majority language not only at school, but even at home. They can’t be more wrong. Kindly make it one of your priorities to speak your language to your child starting this year. Tips for promoting the mother tongue in your home
a. Make children love your mother tongue by finding a creative approach to it.
b. Leave second languages outside your home and speak to your children only in your native language at home.
c. b. Devote time each day to reading and writing in your language with children until they become able to read and write it independently.
d. c. Narrate to them the folklores you enjoyed as a child using glowing imagery. There so many relevant books out now, like the Tatsuniyya series on sale at the Silver Bird Bookshop in Abuja. Remember, children love to hear about their parents’ childhoods and tales about the celebrations from your village, and this will develop both their oral and vocabulary skills and increase their knowledge about their heritage.
e. d. Have books and multimedia for children in your language.
f. e. Provide a reward system and turn learning the mother tongue into a competition among the children. f. Watch TV shows or cartoons with them in the target language.
g. If your language doesn’t have such programmers, think of being a part of the new innovation. g. Listen to songs in your native tongue.
h. h. Send children to centers that offer courses and other types of learning in your language.
i. I. Provide situations where children can speak your native language, such as visits to your hometown, or organize picnics, cultural events and celebrations with families from the same community.
j. j. Have them keep journals in the home language.
k. k. Communicate your expectations about your home language to your child’s teachers.
l. As professionals, they can encourage and support your child in keeping and developing their home language in many ways.

Touched By An Angel (Searching Inwards)

Touched By An Angel (Searching Inwards)

I’ve known her from the day I was interviewed. In fact, she was on the panel that interviewed me. I was struck by the way she handled her line of questioning; she wasn’t brash or aggressive, she was what you would describe as cool, calm and collected (very analytical). She talked only when she was curious about a point I made or did not make that I should have. Later on, I saw her again, active but focused. I would admire her from afar and could only connect with her when an official task afforded me the opportunity.
It was one of such tasks that finally brought us together three weeks ago. It was as if I had known her for years and we stuck together from that point on. She very natural – there’s nothing fake about her – intelligent and hardworking. When I grow up I would like to be like her (smile).
Deep Love
She loves deeply and takes on a lot; everyone’s problem is hers. She looks at issues objectively and proffers solutions swiftly. She told me that her mother once told her that she would soon go bonkers from worrying about other people. Her mother made the comment when they were held up in traffic one day and my ‘angel’ saw a physically challenged boy and his mother begging on the street. My ‘angel’ could not contain herself and broke down.
It took a lot of counselling from her mum to make her understand that life will never be perfect and she was bound to encounter more people like that. Her mother told her that if she could not accept that people like that abound in the world, she would kill herself over what she has little or no power to control; that it is the exclusive preserve of God Almighty who takes care of everyone whether they believe in Him or not. She could attempt to help, but that would be the best she could do.
Genuinely concerned
A family member of mine had a serious health problem that necessitated surgery and this ‘angel’ would text me and call on end to see how the person was doing. How caring of a person I had barely known a month. One remarkable attribute she has and that I admire the most is how she is able to be genuinely concerned about everybody and stay sane.
Just as I was beginning to really enjoy her friendship and tap from her wealth of experience she decided to leave. Yes, I was touched by an angel for just three weeks and now I’m hurting, because she is gone; she left me in the cold.
The vehicle of hurt
For some time now, I have been avoiding getting too close to people. You only end up getting hurt by getting involved with too many people. We often try to shield our hearts and souls from pain. Friendship is always a vehicle of hurt and pain. When any of my relatives are about to get married, I always tell them to be very careful with friends, because friends always seek to hurt you and you cannot shield yourself well enough. When you are careful and vigilant you may just be lucky to avoid that.
Friends can influence even your most genuine intentions. I remember that as a bride to-be, I met this set of people living in my neighbourhood who thought I was young and stupid and did not have the ability to think for myself. But for God’s guidance and my upbringing, I would have been misled by those people with their crazy ideas about how to treat a man. They may have meant well, but my ‘programming’ and perspectives were very different from theirs.
Separating the grain
I must say that at that same time, I also met wonderful people from whose fountain of knowledge and wisdom I drank. If I had dismissed making friends altogether, I would not have learnt the nice and amazing things I know and I would not have been blessed with positive friends. If we do not open our hearts to friendship, how would an angel touch them? How would we become acquainted with the beauty of genuine friendship? We also know that human beings can be very difficult. There’s a saying where I come from that a human being is both difficult and sweet.
The way we were brought up stays deeply entrenched in us, therefore, no matter the external influence (friends), you will always be you if you choose so; the ability to ward off negative influence depends on you. Choosing to do so gives you an edge, the strength to identify good from the bad. Or may I say that the ability to separate the grain from the chaff has more to do with your wealth of wisdom and innate guidance than anything else.
Deserved friendship
When opening your heart to people, be very careful, as your intentions may be misconstrued or associated with negativity. Sometimes, you meet a particular person you perceive to be nice and well intentioned and with whom you could be safe and content and the person perceives otherwise, I do not think you should waste your time with such person, as he or she may not be deserving of your friendship after all.
Friendship, like love, sneaks up on you, tiptoes gently, straight into your heart. You do not bargain for its forceful hold on you. When smitten with how pure and invigorating it is, there is usually no anticipation of any ulterior motives on either part. Your heart simply keeps telling you how the object of your friendship cares for you. Friendship means more than we ascribe to it.
It involves responsibility and compromise. A friend should be a friend indeed, one you can depend on, a person who cries when you cry or who makes you laugh when you really need to, or who is there for you during trying times or when you just need someone to be there.
Huge hearts
I am fortunate and grateful to be blessed with sweet and loving friends, who are more like siblings to me. I know where to go when I need someone to confide in. I know who to call when I need cheering up. I know exactly whose shoulder I can lean on to cry when I am blue. When we accept people the way they are and make the most of the friendship we will not expect too much of them and will experience better and more rewarding relationships. Do not just make friends, make friends with people who have lots of love in their hearts, friends who can contain your huge heart, that is, who are deserving of your friendship. You will know them when you meet them. By their fruits (character) you can classify them and you will be glad you did.
To all my friends – old and new – may the sweet fragrance of love, joy, friendship and harmony continue to trail us wherever we may be? To my newest angel, I wish you the best in all your endeavours. Wherever you go, the blessings of Allah will go with you. Do not forget to thank God Almighty for blessing you with such a lovely heart. I want you to know that you are one of the beautiful things that have happened to me recently. Thank you for touching my heart. Keep searching.
An excellent way to source for gratitude and inner peace is to spend a moment every day thinking of someone to love. Do you remember the old saying an apple a day keeps the doctor away? The equivalent prescription for love might be thinking of someone to love each day keeps resentment away. Thinking of all the loving friends you have and how much they mean to you will saturate your mind and most importantly your system with so much positivism that it will extend to your environment.

Kindred Spirits

Love is what makes the world go round – a popular contention that sometimes has me also wondering how true. There are many concepts and misconceptions about it and it can be pretty confusing. People often think they are really in love with someone, but may actually just be in love with love itself! That is, the idea of it. The issue came up during a family time-out and out popped the issue of in-laws (again!), what they define as love and how it is applied in their family relationships.

Rolling tears

 “Recently, my brother’s daughter was sick,” said one of the guests. “It started at midnight, but before we decided to take her to the hospital, it was almost 2am and she was shivering so much that I thought she was going to die. As I stared at her in that state, I couldn’t stop the free flow of tears down my cheeks. It was so scary! Looking back, I see it made me realise how much that child means to me,” he concluded with a smile. “I mean, she is my flesh and blood,” he added defensively, in response to the look we all gave him. To look at him, you would think him too tough to shed even one tear, not to talk of letting tears flow freely down his cheeks for any reason! “Why wouldn’t I love her so?” he asked. “She is the cutest piece of work God ever made. I hope that when my wife gives birth to a girl, she will look just like her,” he said. “You are a classic example of a good relative, the whole package,” I teased. In these times “Seriously though,” I added. “People like you are becoming difficult to find in this time and age. Too many brothers-in-law do not give a hoot about their nephews and nieces, much less about things like taking the pains to take them to the hospital when needed,” I explained.

“I witnessed a case in a family home not too long ago. A child was ill, vomiting furiously and shaking in the arms of her mother. Everyone around (extended family members) was showing support by offering what help and advice they could. Some were trying to comfort the child, while others ran to get help. But the mother’s brother-in-law stood up from where he was seated close by and left! As if the whole situation was a rude intrusion into his private space. He had been flipping through the newspapers when the baby started to throw up and without as much as a glance at his brother’s child, he walked away. I was so appalled at such reaction that I couldn’t get the scene out of my mind for days. I was visibly shaken by his behaviour. His hatred was clear for all to see,” I narrated.

 The whole package

“They don’t even know the meaning of love,” said another of my guests. “You remember that time I was crazy about that married guy?” She asked, looking in my direction. I nodded. “The one you went cuckoo for.” I added, teasingly. “For one crazy moment,” she continued, “I fell in love with his children and their mother… everything and everybody that meant something to him!” She exclaimed, rolling her eyes. “I loved everything about him – the whole package,” she said. “So, tell me why I wouldn’t love my own flesh and blood unconditionally. Do all these in-laws know what it really means to love?” she asked rhetorically. Acceptance my definition of love for a sibling is simple. Love in a family relationship depends on the definition you give it, but when you and your sibling are kindred spirits, you love your sibling deeply and accept whomever your brother loves or has feelings for, regardless. When you truly love and are a kindred spirit with someone, it breaks and melts down every ounce of prejudice, non-acceptance or anything else you may have against the person’s spouse. It is all replaced by tolerance and respect, just for the sake of what you feel for your sibling. True love Loving should be complete. All your squirmy, creepy and disgusting reactions towards your sibling’s heart’s desires will dissolve gradually; if you would just let all the ill feeling you nurse go. You may feel your sibling could have done better with his/ her choice of a spouse, but if you truly love your brother or sister, why not make the effort to get to know their wife or husband better? Is it that you can’t stand the person or that you can’t stand to see your sibling happy?

 Living with it

True love transcends all. It is deep and devoid of any sort of colouring. It is when all you care about is the happiness and wellbeing of your relative, even if you feel he or she has made a mistake. Remember, it is their mistake and not yours and it is they who have to live with it, not you. What about the fruit of that union, should they be involved in your ‘hatred crusade’ too? How would you be able to live with yourself, should you end up meaning nothing to your brother or sister’s children? Kith and kin the truth is, whether you like it or not, they have blood ties with you and you can’t change that. When you miss out on their lives, it is your loss and one day, you will bite your fingers in regret. No prejudice is worth throwing away your family’s love over. As my mother always says, “No matter how evil or stupid you think your brother is you can’t change the fact that he is your kith and kin.” Your family members and in-laws are a part of you and you are a part of them. You have to live with it. Don’t sever beautiful family ties over some petty reason you will come to regret someday. Yes, it happens all the time. Keep searching…


 It is not too late to make amends. Life is too short to be lived an island. Your brother or sister will always have a place for you when you call. Make that call now and save yourself the misery of a lifetime of separation from loved ones.

Coping With Rats

Coping With Rats

Rats like other rodents have their economic values. The domestic ones are specialise at putting most housewives on their toes as items not properly kept stand the risk of being destroyed.

“They are hideous, dreadful and very wily. They often find ways to outsmart you, especially when they know you are out to get them. It is often said that when rats bite you, they blow air on that spot to prevent you from feeling the pain,” Alt my ‘crazy’ friend said recently during lunch as we discussed a topic.

Behaving like rats

When we relate the above characteristics of rats to some human nature, it’s no news to note that some humans behave like rats and it’s more pathetic when these people actually live with you; or they are people you really care about.

Rats in their nature always want to hide. But humans with similar attributes hide behind a façade.


My sister’s friend

“Last year, my sister accommodated one of her friends for nine months. I’ve heard a lot about this friend for a long time but really didn’t bothered about meeting her despite my sister and mother’s persistence. I heard all the beautiful things she did to them – how nice and sweet she is; how she had helped sold most of my sister’s goods and paid promptly; how a very good business woman she is and how compatible we would be (because of her business acumen). Did I leave how very beautiful she is with the right ‘aggregates’? Well, we finally met and I was excited. The first person she asked of was my mum. “How kind of her,” I thought. She is really beautiful but…

Too good

The first thing I noticed was her entourage. She came with two of her kids, her sister and a house help, to live with my sister in her three bedroom apartment.

“She’s too good to be true,”  I said to myself, and I still couldn’t place why my system wouldn’t relax with her as against my true nature which normally enjoy meeting people. In addition to the all the good things I’ve heard about her. I asked, ‘why does my sub-consciousness keep giving me these alarms?’ I kept my cool and observed further.

I went out of my way to make her comfortable while I waited for my sister, who was not at home. Her kids are really cute ‘angels!’

Throughout my stay I observed that there was something about this woman that is really unnerving. So when my lunch hour was over and my sister wasn’t back, I excused myself and went back to the office.


“She went to my neighbours, spreading all sorts of rumours about me and my home,” my sister whined one day. I tried to comfort her and at the same time avoided mustering, “I told you” as that would only worsen matters. Although I never warned her. “One time I travelled home, she went about saying evil things about me,” my sister said looking me straight in the eyes. “Is it a sin to accommodate someone and give her a place temporarily?” She asked hoping my answers would justify her actions.

“Dear, if you had told me she was coming to stay I would have advised you not to,” I told her calmly. “Sometimes, good intentions are always misconstrued. You know I’ve been there before and sometimes these people don’t just get it

No competition

“No one is in any sort of competition with anyone. So I wonder why I should for no reason start competing with someone that I don’t share family or anything with. Even if it’s a family member, why should there be a competition of any sorts when God created every one uniquely. What is good for the goose may be awful for the gander!

“Seeing you and your husband live in peace may not augur well with them. All may not be too rosy for you, and the fact that you are not complaining does not mean that your life is perfect. The ability to accept the flaws of life is the only way to live well which I think does not exist in the vocabulary of some people. They resort to the ratty attitude by biting you and blowing air to make you feel better. To them, they are being smart, when in the real sense they only outsmarted themselves and are left with the burden to deal with it.

“You did not give them accommodation to harm them but out of good will. So who is left with guilt, agony and trepidation when such good gesture is repaid with evil? Them, so they would definitely live with it.


“So my dear, if it would make you feel better, you have not done anything wrong by giving her a place to live, you should be given an award for helping a friend in need.”

“Why would she leave her base to Abuja with her family in the first place?” I asked rhetorically to break the silence that pervaded the room after my ‘sermon’. “Most women try to be in the same base with their husbands. So I don’t see why she should deliberately seek a job elsewhere from her husband’s. It’s not as if the job is a fantastic one. That alone should have let go of your alarm system!” I chided.

“Well my dear, things like this happens for a reason. This was possible because God wanted you to learn from it.” “But do we?” I asked myself as I recalled how many times I have vowed not to let such things happen to me or the people I love…


“The most painful part of it was that she allied with my sister-in-law and said things about me that never existed,” she narrates bitterly. “You know sisters-in-law now; she tried to use it to goad me for giving in to the thought of bringing my friend to live with me.

“On another occasion, when I travelled and left her with my family, she approached my husband, telling him all sorts of things about her husband which she never told me. I wondered what she wanted him to do about her tales of woe. I didn’t bother reproaching as I thought she had her reasons for keeping it away from me and telling my husband, whom I introduced her to.”

Author: Khadijah Abdullahi-Iya

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The Functional Heart

The Functional Heart

“Because of what we, especially our mother, went through with our father, I decided not to marry from my tribe,” Raliah said. “To me, men from my tribe do not know how to treat women right,” she continued. “They are depraved and inconsiderate. But when I opted out of their circle, it was like hopping from frying pan to fire! The tribe I opted for turned out to be worst! I realised not too late (though) that the devil you know is always better than the angel out there. So I retraced my steps back to marrying someone from my tribe; he had asked for my hand in marriage long before I met my first husband.”

They are mean

Raliah is a friend from college and she had series of dreadful experiences with her father, who treated her mother badly. “The cruellest way to make a child miserable is to make the mother feel low in the dumps,” she said with a tone suggesting she still hurts. “Men’s misplaced touch with our feminity is so inaccessible, that they hardly notice how sensitive a child is to the need of her /his mother. In my father’s case, he hardly notices us his children, talk more of feeling the pains we felt when he tormented our mother.”

It was clear he never loved the woman and extended to his hatred to Raliah and her siblings. They were the second-class citizens in their polygamous home. Right now, she is in her second marriage, though not as rosy as she expected but is way better than the first.

I was talking to Remy not too long ago, and she told me of one of our mates from way back (another sweet friend) who jumped ship and married a Frenchman, trying to run away from the African type of romance. “You won’t believe the pain she is going through with this man whom she has had three children with,” she said in incredulity. “What do we do with these species of necessary evil?” She asked in awe as if tired of the issue.

The qualities

The heart is that part of the body that had been programmed to survive only where it finds love; thrives only where it finds affection, warmth and kindness. Where the heart had been continuously tortured abused or taken for granted. The heart naturally warms up to anyone that has shown it all the qualities that gives it joy, beauty and tenderness. Or where it could naturally express itself without any sort of inhibition. We were all confronted with this issue recently by a woman whose heart had been battered for over four decades now by her husband but still weighing the options of either staying or not.


“I really want to leave,” Mrs. X said to me wearily, “I do not want to live the rest of my life like this. Life is too good to be allowed to crumble like a pack of cards. Because when it crumbles, it means starting all over again. “It took you four decades to realise that?” I asked her teasing her so she can relax. “Haba, aunty, everyone knows that you could do better, but you were bent on staying put. Your excuse, your children,” I reminded her.

“Well, now I have my children and they give me joy beyond bounds. Alhamdulillah! The sacrifices I made putting up with this man had paid up for all the pains, and it’s so worth it and rewarding that I would be a fool not to be grateful to the Almighty,” she said glitters of smile.


“One can never have it all,” she continued consolingly, “but the sacrifices are depicted in my life right now as all my children are doing well. I only have one who is yet to marry and still in school, but doing extremely well in his studies. Alhamdulillah. What would I grumble to Allah for? As for this man he could live the rest of his life a disgruntled old lonely man. All his wives have left him except me. One is dead; may God bless her soul. She was so nice and we had a very good relationship. Who knows if it was his troubles that killed her? I won’t wait for him to give me that kind of heartache. I have had enough!

“At my age now, what I need is a deserved peace of mind and not man’s troubles. It would be crazy of me to go on a wild goose chase; to keep waiting for that which I wouldn’t get from him. Or keep thinking that age would change him,” she added.

Broken glasses

The functional heart is that heart which is conditioned and rehydrated with companionship, friendship and embedded with marital values; that is what is needed from each member of a union. Whoever lacks the intrinsic virtue of a functional heart cannot and would not be able to sustain any union, talk more of marriage. At a stage in life, no one wants to continue walking on broken glasses. The abuses, disrespect and all the pains that goes with a terrible marriage has got to stop at some point in time and it is only the ‘victim’ that has to make that choice… What is your choice? Keep searching…


There’s always a limit to what any human can take; when to say it is enough. But the choice buoys to the one who is the victim. He or she only decides when to put a stop to the abuse.

Author: Khadijah Abdullahi-Iya

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