International Mother Language Day: Echoes of Reflection

Check this scenario. You go to a mallam to buy 500 Naira worth of suya. Another person comes to buy suya at the same spot with the same price you bought yours but he’s given a portion worth N1,500! You are alarmed! You begin to rant about the injustice meted on you. But what you didn’t realise is this, your language of transaction wasn’t what the mallam is familiar with. You spoke English (or pidgin) while the other guy spoke Hausa and that gave him the upper hand.

You probably have experienced this scenario or something like it, where language played a key role to gain the heart of a person. In the University, market, unions and even corridors of power, language power is a core tenet in building relationships. Language is so pivotal to the preservation of culture and heritage. Sadly, there has been a sudden erosion in the use of language in learning. According to the United Nations, at least 43% of the estimated 6,000 languages spoken worldwide are endangered. Only a few hundred languages have genuinely been given a place in education systems and the public domain and less than 100 are used in the digital world.

That is why the International Mother Tongue Language Day has been observed every year since Feb 2000 to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.

Looking at our society, you will see what cultural Imperialism has imposed on us. Schools are so obsessed with ‘British curriculum’ that they forget that mother tongue is very essential to the early development of the child’s intelligence. The school is not to be blamed alone. Parents should share the blame for stripping children of the opportunity to connect to their roots and origin.

A child who doesn’t understand his mother language might find it difficult understanding certain traditional values and proverbs that could set the path of his /her eventual success.

It is therefore important to address this situation so that we don’t nurture a generation that would find it difficult to relate even at the grass roots level. One very important fact to note is that many languages are going into extinction and it’s disturbing. Perhaps it’s the cross breeding of couples from one tribe to another that’s the issue. Or it’s just the effect of globalization that’s making all these languages disappear one after the other.

To foster sustainable development, learners must have access to education in their mother tongues and in other languages. Many do not realise that it is the mastery of the first language or mother tongue that the basic skills of reading, writing and numeracy are acquired. So it behoves on parents to spend time to create a good foundation for their children to learn their mother tongue. I believe it would go a long way to promote our cultural heritage in the society.


Ibeleogute Ibodeng is a graduate of Mass Communication from Babcock University. He’s a public Affairs analyst, United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and Youth empowerment Advocate, member of the Media and Communications team for One African Child foundation for creative learning.

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