[lg policy] Nigeria: A case for language policy

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Sun Mar 2 20:51:19 UTC 2014

A case for language policy
March 2, 2014 by Babatunde Fadun 1

It is a fact which only those not conversant with happenings around them
will dispute. The United Nations Scientific and Cultural Organisation has
also confirmed it: local languages are dying. More than half of the 6000
languages currently spoken in the world are estimated to be in danger of
disappearing during the 21st century. These include some of Nigeria's local

And curiously, it is at this critical moment that the Lagos State
government is perfecting ways to make pupils learn Chinese. It is saddening
that the country does not have a well-articulated national language policy.

In many countries, a language policy is designed to favour or discourage
the use of a particular language. Some now have policies to protect and
promote local languages being threatened. This is what Nigeria should do
through legislation.

Experts including Israeli linguist, Ghil'ad Zuckermann, believe that
everything must be done to protect local languages. He once said: "Native
tongue title and language rights should be promoted. The government ought
to define Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander vernaculars as official
languages of Australia. We must change the linguistic landscape of Whyalla
and elsewhere. Signs should be in both English and the local indigenous
language. We ought to acknowledge intellectual property of indigenous
knowledge including language, music and dance."

This is the way Nigeria should go. And this is how: Let's tackle the
problem from the root. For most of us, the first language we spoke as
children were our mother tongue. We were not introduced to English language
until we got to school. It is no longer the case.  Now, children speak
English first and stumble on their mother tongue or never get to speak them
at all.

Since a national policy cannot compel parents to speak local languages to
their children, we have to turn to schools. I mean nursery schools. The
policy should decree that every nursery school, be it private or public,
should have teachers who teach the pupils their local languages. This way,
we can catch them young. This should be continued by primary schools.

Really, it will not be a bad idea if the policy requires that the mother
tongue or language of the immediate community be the medium of instruction
at pre-primary and early primary levels, with English emerging as medium of
instruction halfway through primary education. I understand the Ekiti State
Governor Kayode Fayemi is pushing for this. He needs to speed up action and
use the state as launch pad.

And for secondary school level, the old practice where students were
expected to sit for and pass one local language in the Senior Secondary
School Certificate Examination should be revisited and be made a key
component of the national language policy. Each child must learn one of
the  three major Nigerian languages (Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba).

If the United States is forcing its citizens to learn one international
language before being given a degree, then we should follow suit and in our
own case, it should be the learning and understanding of a local language
that should be a prerequisite for being found worthy of receiving a
university degree. English should remain the language of instruction.

We should also ensure that Houses of Assembly should hold plenary once a
week in their local language. The Lagos Assembly has started this.

Efforts should be made to ensure that there are effectual supporting
policies and practices; adequate facilities; curricula that reflect the
difference between first and second language teaching; adequate
instructional materials; and positive public sentiment.

By the time we try these steps, we will be on the way to reversing the
current trend. Not only that, we will also see an improvement in pupils and
students' performance in examinations, as experts believe that students who
have better understanding of their mother tongues stand a better chance of
doing well in other areas.

*Babatunde Fadun, equityloss at xxx.com <equityloss at xxx.com>.
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