Nigeria: How English threatens indigenous languages

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Mon Jul 9 13:34:46 UTC 2007

  How English threatens indigenous languages

 Sunday, Jul 8, 2007

Language is a cultural tool for the easy identification of a people
and should be allowed to be learnt from birth to adulthood for the
promotion of a people's culture and tradition."
This was the remark made by Dr. Daniel Ogum, Acting Dean, Faculty of
Languages, Rivers State College of Education, Port Harcourt in his
office while chatting with us on language as a living organism in the
society. The Acting Dean stated that language education has been an
area of great interest for the college and that was why the department
of Nigerian languages was established in the college to encourage the
teaching and learning of Nigerian languages including Rivers State
indigenous languages.

Dr. Ogum, who is a doctorate degree holder in language education,
spoke on the position of English language in Nigeria, saying that it
is threatening other indigenous languages because it is the official
language of communication. Hear him: "Virtually, everybody in every
circumstance tries to accommodate the use of English language and the
indigenous languages are threatened in terms of career opportunities.
The English language is dangling like the sword of Damocles, because
the better English you speak, the more you uphold your social-economic
status in the society." The don also revealed that the government has
sufficiently shown interest in the development of our Nigerian
languages with the establishment of the Nigerian Institute of
Languages (NILAN) and other language centres across the country.

He further stated that the national policy on education and the
language policy of the country have made it necessary for a Nigerian
child to learn the three national languages – Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba
for the first three years of their primary education as a language for
their immediate environment.

The dean also stated that apart from the three national languages,
there is also need to recognise other ethnic indigenous languages. His
words: "Linguistically speaking, all languages are equal, we must have
the feeling that our local languages must not die, otherwise they will
commit linguistic suicide and the limit of the national languages to
three major ethnic languages may cause language imperialism. There is
the need for the child to grow up with the language of his mother
tongue to give him a view of what he is, whom he is, before thinking
of external perspective."

Speaking on the recognition and promotion of Rivers indigenous
language, the dean said that a proposal is in motion to the academic
board of the college for the approval of the teaching of Rivers State
indigenous languages as part of the general studies course as a
requirement for a student to graduate. Hear him: "we have a very good
60 seater language laboratory which is one of the best among the
higher institutions in the country. I am glad to tell you that a
machinery has been set in motion to accommodate the teaching and
learning of Rivers State indigenous languages as general studies
course and a requirement for graduation. This is aimed at making
graduands to study at least one Rivers indigenous language as a
cultural identity of the Rivers people."

Proffering solutions to the realisation of the dream in studying our
indigenous languages, he said there is the need to recognise the fact
that teachers should be trained sufficiently to take care of the
teaching of our children using well developed orthographies of the
local languages.

The Erema born academic, also advised that people should pursue the
local language study with interest and devotion as to meet up the
challenges of acquiring the languages.

According to him, this is the only way we can compete with advanced
countries like America, China, Germany, Russia, Japan that use their
indigenous languages as official languages of communication in their
various countries.

On the low academic performance of students in schools, he attributed
it to the idea of mass promotion and feels that it is affecting our
students at the higher level of their academic studies. He blamed it
to the current federal government millennium development goals where
the country hopes to make every child literate. His words: "In the
older days, there were rooms for competition among students. Dropouts
were awarded the S.75 certificate and certificate then was reverenced
and people struggled very hard to get them because they were passport
for one's life. But today, the springing up of other examination
boards like NECO, makes the students lazy because they have an
alternative way of getting a school certificate result apart from

On proliferation of schools, he welcomed the idea, stating that it
will address the problem of population explosion in the country. He
also feels that public schools are not expanding as to take care of
the population increase in the society.

He thanked the administration of the former Governor of Rivers State
Dr Peter Odili for ensuring a qualitative system of education in
Rivers State. He cited examples with the Army Day Msodel Primary
School, the Rumueme Girls Secondary School as some of the schools with
a refocus in terms of good learning environment.

He called on the government to invest more on education and to make
all public schools to be model schools.

He commended the provost of the Rivers State College of Education,
Prof Addison Wokocha, for ensuring an era of infrastructural
revolution with the fund provided by the Rivers State Government.

Commenting on the present Governor of Rivers State, Sir Celestine
Omehia he has this to say: "Omehia is very active in the act of
governance being a former commissioner of education, senior special
assistant on religious matters, a Christian gentleman, a barrister
should be given support to rule by Rivers people."
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