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.
By Khadija Abdullahi Iya