One of the dictionary’s definitions of the word ‘language’ is the systematic means of communicating by the use of sounds or conventional symbols. Underpinning this definition and other definitions of this word is the emphasis on communication– a crucial aspect of living in this era. The prevalent phenomenon of this age –globalization – has created enormous benefits for those who can effectively communicate their value, and exchange services with the varied people and cultures that inhabit this planet.
Nigeria is a culturally rich country with a diverse population possessing visible language divides. With about 500 ethnic groups and each one boasting its almost unique language or dialect, supremacy of the language of communication is often fought between the three dominant ethnic groups and their respective languages – Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba Language. This has had the consequent effect of a tacit neglect of how best we can integrate globally and leverage on the world’s culture and its vast human resources for strategic goals. Asides English Language that has its roots from our colonial past, we cannot boast of other foreign languages that are spoken by many of our citizens – French Language, although being taught in some schools hasn’t been given the requisite attention needed in effectively learning a language.
As a personal example, in my secondary school days, I was mandated to take the three major Nigerian languages as subjects and pass them. Although, knowledge was being added, I dare say that it was a sub-optimal use of any pupil’s time given the relative obscurity of any of these individual languages on the global landscape. Till today, I only communicate in one of those languages – my own dialect. Being a member of an international non-governmental organization, often times when international conferences are scheduled, there is usually the issue of Nigerian attendees not being able to enjoy rich conversations in the local tongue of prominent host countries. A contrast to many of our African counterparts that hail from Francophone countries, yet make diligent effort to learn the English language (Nigeria’s official business language), hence having the added competence of enjoying to a higher degree, the diverse and differing culture the world offers.Singapore had a similar issue when in their formative days as a self-governing nation, four languages (Chinese Mandarin, Tamil, Malay and English Language) prevailed with a number of other dialects used in communication. It took a calculated effort by its leaders to straddle the beneficial path where international relevance was not sacrificed on the altar of preserving cultural identity. Achieving this goal enabled Singaporeans to be of better relevance to global businesses as against their other Asian counterparts, and experience enormous leaps in their development as a nation.
I reason a holistic approach has to be adopted in ensuring that Nigerians are better equipped to communicate their competencies, skills, knowledge and effectively integrate to the immense opportunities provided by globalization thereby enhancing our competitive advantage. It is not uncommon these days to see job opportunities requiring interested applicants to speak proficiently or at least professionally two or more international languages.
I believe that if schools can come up with a curriculum to meet this language gap, we can take longer strides towards better leveraging the opportunities being a polyglot offers. This approach should not discount other educational fora that can be harnessed for this purpose, for learning isn’t restricted to the four walls of a classroom. Astonishingly, research enlightens us that a child in his/her early stages of development can comfortably learn as many as six languages.
I posit that we have a primary and secondary school curriculum that mandates students to learn at least one local and one international language. At university level, all students should be mandated to learn in their first year, another international language with students in the language field mandated to major in any language of their choice with a minor in another international language and encouraged to take courses that teach yet another foreign language. It is easier for a language student to appreciate the selected language course of study when he/she can contrast that language with other languages.
While I understand the need to preserve one’s heritage and that to achieve this, one has to preserve and distill one’s language to the younger generations, I reason that pre-tertiary education can be reformed to achieve the aim of ingraining cultural identity. Additionally, heritage centers that entrench our indigenous languages should be commissioned. It is a good plus that the Nigerian society and its prevalent communal approach to life helps transmit our local languages to the young.
PS: I define International/Foreign languages as languages prominent in International business and the world’s landscape: French, Chinese, Arabic, and German.