Opinion: The truth about true identity

by Adebisi Adeyemi

Nigerian parents proudly say these days and with all confidence too. “Oh! My child only speaks the English language.”  Interesting!

It is for sure a beautiful thing to be able to stand out from the crowd and present yourself, your speech or even your ideas gracefully and fluently in a language acceptable by many. There is indeed great pride in discussing with friends from different parts of the world and flow excellently well, understanding every conversion and more importantly, being understood. You are no doubt respected and in fact, there is a personal feeling of poise, brilliance and self-confidence. Indeed, people will relate better with you than with those who struggle or stutter at their words in English Language. You definitely have an edge.

However, that’s about where it all ends. Not until you leave the shores of your own country before you realize that no matter how much you try, you are who you are. No matter how fluent your English is, you are not English.  No matter how strong your American accent is, Americans know themselves. And you will be often asked questions like: ‘Where are you from?’ For obvious reasons of course, and the only thing that would remind you of your root would be your name, well, if you have a local name.

Only then would you wonder and ask yourself, “If I don’t belong fully abroad, I hope I fit and can even ‘balance well’ at home?”

There is a need, an urgent one too, to be able to identify with our roots, and also be able to prove that identity!

A number of us are familiar with the reports on languages. But just to reiterate, “The brain is not biologically set to learn only one language” quoting expert Laura-Ann Petitto, ‘a Cognitive Neuroscientist, popularly known for her discoveries about the biological foundations of language’.  Another research, according to an article in ‘Daily Mail Online’ says that “People who can switch between two languages seamlessly have a higher level of mental flexibility than monolinguals”.

Perhaps, we have been under utilizing the potentials and abilities of our children. A statement like ‘Yoruba will spoil my child’s English’ is a proven myth. There are many people who communicate well in their local language and still speak the English language fluently. As strong as the French accent is, there are French with great American accents and who would have you believe that they are Americans until they begin to speak perfect French. How did they achieve that? Well, you can never know how much ability you’ve got until you try to discover.  Experts say that the best way is to speak local languages to our wards at home and have them learn the other languages at school. In fact, have them learn a third or fourth language. Start from when they are young.

Also worth mentioning is the sweetness of switching between languages at the perfect place and at the right time too. Turning to that comfort zone even in the tightest corner; when it only makes sense to talk to mum about that pressing family issue; dad about the next giant step you are about to take and discuss that friend that grates on your nerves with your sister IN YOUR LOCAL LANGUAGE. Whilst still feeling safe that you have neither divulged confidential issues nor ‘washed your dirty linens in public’

Again, our true identity lies in our root, our root is defined by our culture, and our culture is reflected in that local language. We cannot afford to have a generation without an identity. Though it might seem to be fading out, we still have a chance to revive our culture and revival will start by ensuring we pass on our local language and the importance of it, to generations after us.

We hope to build a generation of leaders who have names like Omotola, Chidinma and Chawai and can fluently speak Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa respectively.

References and for further reading on how many languages a child can learn:

Ute Limacher-Riebold, Expat Since Birth; Language is a biological ability

Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

Adebisi Adeyemi blogs at adebisiadeyemi.blogspot.com


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