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Atoke’s Monday Morning Banter: Bilingual Blues



In an ever changing cosmopolitan world, one has to constantly find that thing – that element which makes you stand out. For some people, it’s where they went to school; for others it’s about their pedigree/lineage; for some it’s about the unique skills they have. For others, it’s about the number of languages you’re able to speak.

Generally, being able to speak more than one language is a plus- irrespective of whether the second language is a European language, or Nigerian one. I met a Nigerian couple with three children and these kids have never been to Nigeria, but they had a very good understanding of Yoruba. As someone whose default thought process is in Yoruba, I didn’t think anything of the fact that the children understood me. However, the person I was with was thoroughly impressed. She talked about it till we got home. Didn’t I think it was super impressive that those kids were in touch with their parents’ roots? Didn’t I see how cool it sounded that children of 2nd generation Nigerian immigrants could speak their native tongue? Didn’t I think the children would impress their English friends when they grow older?

Giving it a little more thought, I reckoned it actually might be something cool enough to be mentioned – especially as there are several Nigerians who were born and raised in Nigeria who can’t speak their ‘native dialect’. This is a bit awkward because Nigerians who fall in this category are always quick to hold up the shield of ” English is not my native tongue” in defence of bad spelling, syntax and grammar in use of English. {We talked about that here}.

But, there are valid reasons why they can’t speak or write their ‘native language’. One – our official language is English. Meaning we are educated in English {At least that’s what I used to avoid having to do TOEFL or IELTS.} Secondly, Nigeria is one large multi-ethnic and multi-cultural entity; therefore, there is no such thing as ‘Nigerian language’.

Also, because many of our ancestors travelled away from their home state for trade they learned the language of their adopted home. Like my friend, Mo. He has an Ijebu heritage, but he was born and raised in Kaduna. His Yoruba is abysmally poor, but his Hausa is as crisp as they come.

Then, there’s the case of what language your parents speak to you. Another friend has Kalabari parents but she can’t speak the language. When we talked about it, she said they had just never spoken the language to her and so she had no way of learning it. She did mention that she had a problem with people who went off on her as if she had some deficiency. “As long as I’m able to communicate effectively, what should it matter that I am not bilingual?”

Then, we must not forget the set of people who make a conscious effort to ensure that their children do not learn a Nigerian language.

Someone once said it’s the responsibility of the parents to pass the legacy down to the children. However, what happens when mother is from Bida and father is from Asaba? Who decides what second language to teach the children? Is the choice to pass a Nigerian language down to your children a function of your parenting skills?
According to my friend, Redd, “Actively and consciously not wanting your kid to learn your lingo is what is bad and smacks of inferiority complex and ‘colomental'”. Now that’s some deep and heavy food for thought.

It also makes you think of the fact that you meet French and Spanish people who can barely speak English and it’s oh so cool and sexy, but when you meet someone who speaks in his native Efik language he’s ‘razz’?

What are your thoughts on the idea of being bilingual? Do you think being bilingual is only cool if you can speak French or Spanish? Have you made an effort to learn another Nigerian/African language? Between Flavour, IllBliss and Phyno I’m slowly on my way to becoming an Igbo specialist.

Do you think some Nigerian languages are slowly dying as a result of lack of use? One impressive thing I’ve noticed about the Welsh people is the STRUGGLE to preserve the language. It doesn’t matter than 7 in 10 young Welsh people can’t speak the language, the government insists on writing everything in English AND Welsh. Somehow or the other {by fire, by force} you will understand ‘Cymru’ and ‘Croeso’.

Do you think that we’re subconsciously being neither here nor there with our languages. You go to a Lagos State government office and everybody there is speaking Yoruba and you’re thinking ‘That’s so unprofessional. They’re uneducated’. But, in South and East Africa, you find that government officials speak their Swahili with pride.

Do you agree that there’s a certain ‘cool’ that comes with silently understanding a language and then people around you are blabbing away oblivious that you understand every word of what they’re saying.

Let’s have fun this morning with some interesting stories. Have a fabulous week ahead and don’t forget tomorrow’s a BIG day at BellaNaija. We can’t wait for y’all to see what we’ve been working on.

Peace, love & cupcakes.


Photo Credit: Dreamstime | Auremar

You probably wanna read a fancy bio? But first things first! Atoke published a book titled, +234 - An Awkward Guide to Being Nigerian. It's available on Amazon. ;)  Also available at Roving Heights bookstore. Okay, let's go on to the bio: With a Masters degree in Creative Writing from Swansea University, Atoke hopes to be known as more than just a retired foodie and a FitFam adherent. She can be reached for speechwriting, copywriting, letter writing, script writing, ghost writing  and book reviews by email – [email protected]. She tweets with the handle @atoke_ | Check out her Instagram page @atoke_ and visit her website for more information.


  1. Ade

    June 30, 2014 at 9:54 am

    For starters I was born and brought up in the UK (Spent 10 years of my life there from birth), been home ever since and now I’m a full blown adult, I speak Yoruba but it ain’t so smooth and it’s funny when people question my tribe. Do I feel silly? Nah!

    I feel we all should learn and speak our dialect but since English is most acceptable for survival in the businessn world (in this part of the world), English first and every other language next 🙂

  2. mrs chidukane

    June 30, 2014 at 10:09 am

    Proudly trilingual, I speak English, Central ibo and my local dialect very well,lol. I also read and write in ibo fluently, ibo novels are the best. It’s a pity the writers are largely unknown and uncelebrated. You will hardly find anyone from my village, no matter where they live or they were born who can’t speak our local dialect.

    • Mz Socially Awkward...

      June 30, 2014 at 10:57 am

      Where are you from?

    • mrs chidukane

      June 30, 2014 at 11:32 am

      Hahahahaha, I choro I chiputaam ukwu n’ama. I’m from Abiriba.

    • Mz Socially Awkward...

      June 30, 2014 at 2:27 pm

      I’ll spare you the painful experience which results from reading my written Igbo and simply say “no, I’m not trying to bring out your ‘ukwu’ ” 😀

    • birdieblue

      July 2, 2014 at 5:41 pm

      No way!! we’re neighbors!! unfortunately i cant speak central ibo, just ohafia.

    • Idak

      July 3, 2014 at 9:50 am

      I am almost in the same boat. Although I think my reading ability of the central Igbo might not be as good as yours.

  3. S!

    June 30, 2014 at 10:17 am

    Well Nigeria is just too multi cultural. And I and my two other siblings can’t speak any native language, my folks are from two different places and never seemed to teach us or mind that we don’t speak. When guest ask why we can’t, my dad just ignores them.
    The problem with some languages sounding razz is the effect the accent has when they are speaking English. A Spanish accent while speaking English may sound razz to a Spaniard who speaks proper English, but it might be sexy to others because it is foreign and the Spaniards are synonymous with being sexy. A foreign Cameroonian or Russian accent isn’t sexy though

  4. Miss Independent

    June 30, 2014 at 10:20 am

    I think it’s important to be bilingual, I am South African and i am Multi-lingual. we have 11 official languages and i can Speak 7 of the 11. 5 fluently (Read, speak and write) and 2 not that fluent. However, this only benefits me in Southern Africa and not in other African countries…

    • Speaks good English and pidgin

      July 1, 2014 at 10:34 am

      Yeah reason why most South Africans can’t fathom the idea that one can’t speak their native language because most of them can speak more than one of the 11 OFFICIAL languages. but 7!! that is impressive girl! Kudos!!

    • Idak

      July 3, 2014 at 9:47 am

      The 7 is impressive but not uncommon among my SA folks.
      However,it seems to be at the detriment of their written English and to a lesser extent spoken English.

    • ada1

      July 2, 2014 at 7:42 am

      u speak 7 languages! wow. kudos to ya.

    • Speaks only good English and pidgin

      July 3, 2014 at 3:58 pm

      @Idak… WORD!!!

  5. BBB

    June 30, 2014 at 10:22 am

    The truth is that after graduating in the US and searching for jobs for two years, I realized putting Yoruba and Hausa as Multilingual as no effect on my resume. When I asked an HR officer for feed back, she said Nigeria has 250 languages and Africa is a lot more big, being able to speak just one or two is too limited. By bilingual in the job description they meant Spanish or atleast French and if an African language Swahili which is spoken in atleast 7 countries in Africa. The question is what does my understanding and speaking Yoruba do for me asides from being able to speak to my peers?? By the way, a friend who is Spanish native and speaks English, French and partial Portuguese got a job asap as a director in an international NGO.

    For me, my children will speak English first then Spanish then Yoruba/Hausa (my husband is Hausa I’m Yoruba). I love my heritage and I’m proud, my question is just that how does it help you progress asides from preserving it?

    I’ll love to know and opened to widening my perspective.

    • Jane Public

      June 30, 2014 at 10:53 am

      Thank you for being objective, even though people will jump down your throat and say oh, you are elevating another language above your own. To them, I say sitdon there and let the world pass you by. Your Yoruba or Igbo or Hausa is not useful in a GLOBAL environment. Emphasis on global. I speak two out of the three and I wish I listened more in French class. Le Boo speaks Fluent Spanish, French, Arabic and Mandarin. Spanish because he was raised by a Mexican nanny, Arabic because his mum is half Arab, French he learnt in private school and Mandarin because he lived in China for years. It has opened doors for him career wise, plus he has all this fabulous friends and contacts all over the world. When he gets angry and in *cough* *cough* moments he speaks another language, which I find incredibly sexy. Arabic and Spanish comes out often when he is pissed which I find highly amusing, much to his annoyance. Hey, you can’t be mad at someone who is speaking a language you don’t understand. As for my children when they come, will be immersed in foreign languages. China will soon own the world, the earlier your children start speaking Mandarin, the better for them. I won’t be surprised if in 100 years, Mandarin becomes as popular as English. The Nigerian languages that I speak haven’t done anything for me well except converse with my parents and friends and Le Boo just looks puzzled. It makes for juicy gossip right in his face or out and about and you can just shut off English for a bit, beyond that, I am not sure what else it has done. It definitely doesn’t make me feel more Nigerian, neither does it give me a sense of identity. As for preserving it, I think the rich and middle classes have an exaggerated importance of themselves. They are a very tiny minority in Nigeria, very tiny, so the languages will not “die” because their children don’t speak it. Even in the major cities where they live, socio-economically, they are still a minority, because of the imbalance of wealth, so rest assured guys, our languages are not going anywhere. Maybe among your friends in your social class, it is dying, but look beyond your nose. The languages are still alive and well and will forever be.

    • mrs chidukane

      June 30, 2014 at 11:39 am

      Your boo sounds interesting and exotic. I would have learnt French if I could grasp the conjugation (I never understood the Le and Les and all) , and as for the other languages, I think I’ll pass. BUT will make sure my kids are multilingual in international languages. They will be my guinea pigs *evil laughter *

    • Ronke

      July 1, 2014 at 6:43 pm

      You raise good points about being practical and saying Yoruba or Hausa for example will not help you on a global village and you’re right, it won’t in an economic sense except if you’re determined to jump on the national gravy train and be a politician, in which case it’s really ALL you need 🙂 But I think this is true only if your looking at it from an economic sense and somehow to say what is the point is to somehow imply that the economics of language is the ONLY important thing. Your mother in law was a wise woman to ensure her children learnt al those languages, language is important for a sense of identity and really heritage and that is as important in a sense as the Economics of it, if you think about it, why else would the Welsh be adamant that people try and speak it or Quebec insist on French when clearly the global village of the world currently works in English, it’s more than the economics, there is the history and the heritage and the other sentimental stuff that some people might call hog wash because it’s ‘soft’

    • Thatgidigirl

      June 30, 2014 at 11:21 am

      Thank you BBB. Whilst I advocate for speaking Nigerian languages, i do not think its as serious as people make it seem. In the big scheme of things, if doesn’t fit into your plans and aspirations, why invest so much in it? In the past year, i can’t remember how many times i have spoken my native dialect here in england….my flatmate is nigerian, but we don’t speak the same language, same with my nigerian classmate. i speak to my mum and sisters like once a week and that’s it! Even back in nigeria amongst my friends that spoke the same language, we still talked to each other in english. I am glad i can speak my language, the proverbs just crack me up! but then let’s face reality, my friend that cannot speak igbo but can speak french or spanish would get that mouthwatering job two times over before me.

    • jcsgrl

      June 30, 2014 at 3:09 pm

      Ok here’s another POV I can offer on this subject. I think its a matter of he who plays the piper dictates the tune. Honestly, these other languages (french, english, mandarin) are poplular globally because the countries they originate from are world powers. It pains me that nja is not a force to be reckoned with otherwise watch other countries begin to start learning yoruba, hausa or igbo. Na we cause am chikena! Recently while in Abuja, I went for lunch with a friend and her friend who both school in china. Her friend happens to work for a chinese construction company so she came with her chinese bosses. Why were this people speaking mandarin all over me? Na so my mouth open like fish out of water they watch them as gist they fly all over me. Chai the thing pain me. But the koko of the gist was that the chics bosses didn’t bother to learn Nigerian language. Do you know this people hired her to be the inbtw negotiator/translator for them? Those guys spoke no lick of English. My friend speaks fluent hausa, igbo, mandarin and english (chai I jealous that girl shaa). So na languages were frying over left right and center. Now these chinese came to Nigeria for business and didn’t bother to learn. They just hired a Nigerian/Mandarin to do it for them. If you have money, people will scramble to learn how to communicate with you period. If Nigeria becomes one of the G8 today, that yoruba and Igbo you are despising will become hot cake. Me sef I wan go learn Hausa because that na the way to get contract for Abuja. For my children, they will learn Igbo, English and any other foreign language of their choice in that order.

    • Jane Public

      June 30, 2014 at 3:40 pm

      Of course, you are correct, but until that happens, can we live in the now? I am not despising any language, I speak two Nigerian languages, but I am all for living in the now, putting your best foot forward. The utopia we all speak about doesn’t exist. The igbo and hausa your friend speaks did not land her that job with the Chinese people. I am a very practical person and loyalty to home and country, or patriotism doesn’t speak to me if it doesn’t translate to opportunities, i.e. tools I can use. I can’t be more patriotic pass Goodluck now. I speak two Nigerian languages, my children will speak maybe one, but I pray Le Boo passes the genes of language abilities to them. To learn Spanish, his mother told their nanny not to speak a word of English to him and his siblings. Only their father spoke English to them, she also spoke Arabic. Before he was in primary school bros could speak 3 languages. Languages that are useful. You want to get that contract in Abuja, I suggest, you take it even further, ditch Hausa and deal with oil money by learning Arabic. Someone told me of her brother who got a job in Hungary because he laughed at a joke two Hungarians made at an airport in the US. Hungarian is not common, one of the hardest languages in the world, and imagine those 2 men thinking no one will understand them. They couldn’t believe a black man could speak Hungarian. He schooled in Budapest for a few years and was on holiday in the US. They gave him their business card, and like play, like play, he is back in Budapest with a plush job. I am not against Nigerian languages, just as @Thatgidigirl wrote, it is not as serious as people make it seem. Again, live in the now. The what if and when’s is digging your head in the sand. Arm yourself with skills that will serve you well. Enter your friend @jcsgirl

  6. Jo!

    June 30, 2014 at 10:22 am

    I swear, even if I eventually settle in Iceland my children will speak Yoruba, not Lagos Yoruba o, PROPER Yoruba, they will also kneel down and prostrate. Gbam!
    Even if I marry a chinese man

  7. Tiki

    June 30, 2014 at 10:23 am

    People from the North West region in my country are notorious for hanging on to not just their language, but their culture. It is very very common to see a third or fourth generation child speak their mother tongue fluently, and even speak English with an accent!

    I think it is amazing when you can speak your mother tongue…I wish I could speak mine fluently! I’ve started with reading the Bible, now I need to find a funky village meeting to join.

    • Troll

      June 30, 2014 at 10:54 am

      What country are you from? I’ve always thought you were Nigerian

  8. Tiki

    June 30, 2014 at 10:26 am

    People who think speaking a dialect is razz have serious deep-seated complexes which need considerable time with a shrink to work out. My only problem with speaking a dialect in a public setting is that it alienates non-speakers. In a social/informal setting, knock yourself out. However asides tossed out in the dialect in the course of a professional/group discussion are just plain rude.

    IN a nutshell, speak your dialect if you must, as long as all who need to understand you can understand you.

  9. oj

    June 30, 2014 at 10:45 am

    i wish i can speak and read my native dialect. my parents are from different tribes but dad knows how to speak mum’s language. i understand to an extent but can’t speak. i felt ashamed of myself when i went to serve in abakaliki, ebonyi and saw little children who speak their language and English fluently. hoping that i get married to a man who would encourage me to learn his language.

  10. Mz Socially Awkward...

    June 30, 2014 at 10:53 am

    Nne, over the last couple of years, I’ve developed the habit of speaking to myself in Igbo. Personally, I find my spoken Igbo to be quite comprehensible … 🙂 but whenever I’m with fellow Igbo brethren they burst into outright laughter at my mispronunciations. “Oya now”, I said to one such dear lady, “if I’m not speaking it well, assist my pedestrian efforts by speaking Igbo to me anytime we meet”. But, alas, na only English she dey continue her communications with when we dey see…

    Living in a mixed Naija society within my current locale, I have Nigerian friends who from a wide range of ethnicities/tribes across the country and while it’s been a great learning process that’s opened my eyes and understanding to the particularities of other cultures that I’d never interacted with before now… the other side of the coin is that people I meet from my own ethnic group speak different varieties of Igbo (and I mean VERY VARIED varieties of Igbo), which I’m not ashamed to say can be quite confusing to this Owerri lass. A very good gal pal of mine, for instance, is from Ora-ifite (abeg no crucify me if I no spell am well) and any time she speaks Igbo to me, I honestly struggle to catch the words I understand in between. It’s musical and beautiful and very much unlike any Igbo I’ve heard among my Imo State folk. To make things interesting, her mum’s currently visiting and that grand lady speaks excellent English but whenever I meet her, I feel compelled to greet her in Igbo and what ensues is a head-spinning conversation of Anambra Igbo with me listening raptly so that I can find one or two words that I understand and generally decipher what the conversation is about. Nigeria is truly blessed with a multitude of cultures.

    And finally, the only other Nigerian language I wish I understood was Yoruba (and I lived in Lagos for 2.5 years oh… sigh). That’s solely because of the larger percentage of Yoruba people I’ve become quite close to and some of those friends might chip in a word or phrase here and there, with me always asking “what does that mean? What does that mean?”. Would be so cool if we could have fluid conversations in either their language or mine… don’t know if any of you have seen that relatively old movie, “The 13th Warrior”, with Antonio Banderas. The plot is mainly about an Arab who gets pulled into a mission by a group of Vikings he meets while traveling and there are major language barriers but at some point in the journey , they’ve spoken Norse around him for so long that he suddenly realizes he can understand their language. I always think of that movie and imagine it’s going to happen to me one day, regarding Yoruba. 🙂

    Lest I forget my manners, “Good Morning” BN’ers and I pray your week ahead is filled with Light.

    • Mz Socially Awkward...

      June 30, 2014 at 10:55 am

      *a head-spinning conversation in Anambra Igbo*

    • Thatgidigirl

      June 30, 2014 at 11:30 am

      LMAO! @ mz SA! My dad’s part of igbo is sooooo confusing eh! When i speak it in my head, it makes so much sense, but the moment i part my lips i sound like a disaster…stuttering here n there. Met a guy recently who was so glad i was from his village, and just went off on me like that! shuuuu! i felt so sorry for him, he just sat there talking plenty and i was giving him short answers. when he said can’t you speak igbo, i replied “not your kind, i speak my mum’s igbo”, dude has gently withdrawn….i doesn’t carels mehn!

    • Ada Nnewi

      June 30, 2014 at 11:47 am


    • Mz Socially Awkward...

      June 30, 2014 at 2:50 pm

      These “menz” sef. You’re from their tribe but they still want you to be from their uncle’s grandmum’s cousin-in-law’s hamlet & able to recite the market days in that indigenous dialect. Wetin?? I’m however glad that you didn’t “took” it personally 😀

    • jcsgrl

      June 30, 2014 at 3:15 pm

      Aww MzSA I wish I could teach you Igbo. I am such a local girl you won’t belev it. I speak, write and think in Igbo. Just keep speaking it regardless of who is laughing. Me sef wan learn Hausa. That language na ebeano. It is soo sexy. Besides, I wan get contract for Abuja or enter civil service…lool
      @thatgidigirl you are something else I swear. Sometimes I wonder what goes on in that your head….your comments are die

    • Ada

      July 2, 2014 at 11:15 pm

      Nne it’s Oraifite. Lol!

  11. Troll

    June 30, 2014 at 11:05 am

    Yeap, I’m bilingual *side eye*. I speak English, Igbo, Hausa (minimal) and Spanish( Also, planning to take up German and Italian classes when I have the time. i have to make sure that before I die, I must learn to speak seven languages fluently #bucketlist

  12. newbie

    June 30, 2014 at 11:26 am

    Being multi-lingual has many benefits. Some of them are:

    1. If one of the languages you speak is directly linked to your cultural heritage, it helps you connect more intimately with your heritage – if you care for that sort of thing. I believe that where possible, every language and culture should be preserved.
    2. It’s handy to be able to have a private conversation in a public setting – e.g on the bus / train with your kids and you want to share something with them without announcing it to the whole world, you can speak your other language with them. Of course there’s no guarantee that no one else that can hear you understands your Yoruba/ Hausa, etc.- which is why you mustn’t use it to gossip about people in that kind of setting lol!
    3. Stating that you can speak more than one language on your resume often gets you noticed. Sometimes it’s about being able to reach out to the employer’s global market, but sometimes too it’s about the fact that your communication skills are more acute when you are able to think in one language and translate into another, going back and forth all the time. Not all employers will value this, but a lot who know what they’re on about do acknowledge it that it takes something extra to speak two languages or more fluently – any languages at all.

    Speaking a second or more language is beneficial. If it’s a global language – more power to you (and your pay packet) and if it’s a humble local language- great! You still get to practice and hopefully pass on your heritage among other things. What stumps me is people who are “neither here nor there” i.e. people who can neither speak, read and write English – our official Nigerian language fluently nor speak, read and write any other Nigerian language fluently. The only word for people who cannot read/write fluently is Illiterate, or semi-literate at best. And it is a crying shame to be illiterate in 2014.

    • Idak

      July 3, 2014 at 9:54 am

      I concur with point 1. That for me, is the foundation of culture.

  13. adelegirl

    June 30, 2014 at 11:52 am

    I wonder if the desire to conform, fit in has any relevance here…

    I can relate with your friends who can’t speak the native language of their parentage. My mum is from Rivers with Delta Ibo links but she cannot speak her exact native dialect though she is very fluent in Igbo language. She was born and grew up in Lagos and married a Yoruba man so she speaks Yoruba very fluently. In fact her and almost all if not all her siblings and family members that I know speak Yoruba very fluently even amongst themselves. At a recent family wedding in Delta, I was amazed how they were all speaking Yoruba to each other, never mind that they are NOT Yoruba. I regret that I cannot speak Igbo though my speaks it well. I recall one holiday we spent at my maternal grand uncle’s and he was determined to teach us Igbo. We were catching on but the holiday ended and we went home and that was forgotten. I speak Yoruba fluently not necessarily because my dad is Yoruba but because I was born and brought up in Lagos. I know this because I cannot speak my dad’s Yoruba dialect- Ijesha- which I always found “konk” and very funny but now in circles where there are Ijesha people, I wish I could show off my “ijeshaness” by speaking the local dialect. I feel inadequate that I cannot neither speak my mother’s language nor my father’s local dialect.

    As a nation, we do ourselves a disservice by exalting foreign languages – English- above our local languages. I hope my children will know how to speak/read at least 2 nigerian languages as fluently as they will do English which is our national ligua franca.

    • jcsgrl

      June 30, 2014 at 3:34 pm

      Gbam you speak am…your last paragraph says it all

  14. Princess Mia

    June 30, 2014 at 11:54 am

    I get you on the Welsh thing I felt like I was in a totally different country when I visited Cardiff for the first time totally impressive. Here is my two kobo if a child has parents from two different tribes say Igbo and Yoruba and goes to school and learns English, French and Mandarin in between how hard is it for the parents to teach that child their respective languages? Children up to a certain age I think its 6 or something pick up languages very easily and this is the time to teach them it is easier for them to learn mama’s language first since she spends more time with them. Once they have mastered the basics then introduce them to papa’s language whether it means hiring help from the region who is instructed to speak to them in only that language or getting the grandparents to live with you for a few months at a time to teach them it is doable. My friend of mixed tribal parentage who cannot speak either language at 30 years old blames her parents for not teaching her and has taken it upon herself to learn the languages at this age which I find commendable she has also taken steps to ensure her two daughters who are still very young learn the language in her words she doesn’t want them to grow up language-less like she did. She always felt out of place when the rest of us switched to native every now and then in the midst of a convo like it happens sometimes. As for the African people who find their native tongues to be razz while hailing French, Spanish and all I feel very sorry for you there is a saying that “he without roots is a slave”. Think about it. I can’t wrap my head around the fact that some people think it is so cool not to speak their native tongues while find it okay to learn French, Spanish etc.

  15. Ihinosen Austen Ani-Otoibhi

    June 30, 2014 at 12:11 pm

    This is an amazing piece and its almost as if you read my mind completely. I wrote a similar article a few days ago and i would love it if you could have a look and let me know what you think. Your feedback would be greatly appreciated. The link to the post is stated above and my email address is also available.

  16. Anonymous

    June 30, 2014 at 12:31 pm

    This is a topic very close to my is disheartening to see parents who speak their native dialect to each other but make no effort to teach it to their kids. Worse off are those who think it is cool not to speak their native dialect, i can only SMH at dem but the worst in my opinion (pet peeve) are those people who cannot pronounce their surnames, i mean its bad enuf that you can’t speak ur native dialect but to open ur mouth and say “ooh i dnt know the pronunciation” dt is very annoying.#RANT OVER#

  17. John Carter

    June 30, 2014 at 1:47 pm

    The comments so far have been reasonable and quite telling. My question is, so if your language has no economic relevance/advantage there would be no point speaking it? Considering mandarin wasn’t considered an economically viable language 30yrs ago (and Spanish too), one wonders if they would have become the force they are today if they had adopted the same mind set back then of economic irrelevance. Fact is, a language cannot become any much more if there aren’t enough speakers. Like the Welsh, ensuring that their language doesn’t die isn’t about economics as much as it is about protecting their cultural heritage, and I personally see nothing wrong with this..

    • Jane Public

      June 30, 2014 at 2:18 pm

      You totally missed the point. No one said there is no point in speaking it, definitely not what I was alluding to, you can speak it if it helps your connect with your people, friends etc, but in Nigerian English lingua “don’t carry it on your head” and think it offers you any advantage because as someone said above, if you are applying for a job, your competitor who speaks Spanish and french and not the Igbo that you speak, would most likely get the job. Bottom line, arm yourself with tools to succeed in a global environment. I am sure the Chinese must be rubbing their arms with glee, now that they are an economic power people want to learn their language. If the South West of Nigeria becomes one, maybe Yoruba will be relevant outside of Nigeria. @BBB said it all. You see that Welsh language, it means jack outside of the UK. I won’t go far as to diss them and say outside of Wales, but betcha, it doesn’t. Many people championing the local lingua (not like there is anything wrong with it), you will find schooled abroad. Now, I wonder why. Nigerian education, wasn’t it good enough? The same analogy can be applied with languages. Multilingual doesn’t mean jack if what you speak is English and Yoruba, even in Nigeria, you would be surprised it doesn’t mean jack. A friends sister who read Modern European languages at Unilag, is a high earning executive at one of the embassies in Lagos. I am sure many people applied for the job who spoke Yoruba, Hausa, Efik, Ijesha, Shagamu etc. As for the enough speakers. I re-iterate, there are tens of millions of speakers and there will always be tens of millions if not hundreds of millions. Nigerians exists outside the bubble of bella naija readers.

    • Princess Mia

      June 30, 2014 at 2:42 pm

      Jane Public I think you are the one missing his point. What he said was a language can only become economically viable if it has enough speakers. Now if all Yoruba would be speakers and fluent speakers start saying they will not learn it or teach it to their children because it has no use for them outside their home or families then Yoruba will die out in the next 50 years and never become economically viable. However if more of these speakers teach the language to their offspring then it has a chance of becoming economically viable someday the more speakers you have the more economically viable a language is. Spanish is more economically viable in the US as opposed to Europe because of the huge numbers of Hispanic immigrants who speak it in the US for example.

    • Princess Mia

      June 30, 2014 at 2:20 pm

      Very very very sensible comment. I am proudly multi lingual four African languages from two countries and three European languages from three countries. My children will learn my native language first and whatever other foreign language they desire.

    • John Carter

      June 30, 2014 at 3:36 pm

      Princess Mia,
      Thanks for capturing what I was trying to say. I also went further to say that, for a lot of people, speaking their native language isn’t so much about the economic advantage it would give, as much as the sense of preservation of a cultural heritage.
      Interesting historical fact.. No group of people have risen (as a collective) to global prominence on the backs of assimilated cultures.

    • jcsgrl

      June 30, 2014 at 3:32 pm

      I think its all about being confident in who you are and where you are going as a person. Some people are global people and others are local. Opportunities exist globally for Nigerian language speakers as well as foriegn language speakers. However it doesn’t hurt to learn at least one native language and a foriegn one. Besides there are so many of them, which one will be more important? If for example you want to be your local government chairman and you are there learning portugese, french and german and can’t speak your dialect, it will be difficult to earn the trust of the people unless of course you are politically imposed. If you choose to go the global route, then yes foreign languages are of importance. I’ve been looking for opportunities back home in Nigeria and have been pleasantly surprised with the emphasis on local dialects in the JD. My brother who schooled in the US is even being considered by the US Army because of this Igbo speaking skills for translation roles. Pakistan languages are another hot one been sought out in the US due to rise of terrorism. So my point is whichever language you choose to speak or learn, do it well and hopefully it will open the right doors for you. I just don’t believe in exalting one over the other. All languages are relevant globally it depends on the specific opportunity it serves

    • newbie

      July 1, 2014 at 1:36 am

      I 1000% agree with you. It’s not always about the money, the here and now, the ‘I’. That’s okay and Sometimes expedient but overall is mostly tactical. To be strategic one has to think longer term- and look at the bigger picture beyond one’s own immediate gratification.

    • reverse

      July 4, 2014 at 9:06 am

      Preach biko… Jobs, money, relevance is all I hear! Identity, cultural heritage nko? See mandarin now, Lagos state has even made it compulsory.

  18. D

    June 30, 2014 at 2:20 pm

    So very recently I showed my ignorance at work while talking to two co-workers one from Inida and the other from Kenya. I assumed that the “native” language was hindu and Swahili. See laughter, they told me I sounded like an ignorant American and they were surprised since I was raised in Nigeria and they felt I should know better. Swahili and hindu is actually considered a national language as well as English in both countries and just like we have yoruba, ibo and hausa amongst other dialects they have theirs too. The lady from Kenya told me she could not communicate with other Kenyans in the company in their native languages as they are completely different. The Inidian guy said the same thing about himself and my manager (who happens to be Indian as well). On the other hand,I like having “ede”( language) as I call it. People laugh at me though when I speak yoruba (fellow yorubas) I guess I don’t have the right accent but that does not mean you can’t understand me. I think it comes in really handy, for example with this open cubicles at work and every one trying to be all up in your business and I am talking about applying or interviewing for another job with my sister on the phone. I can do that in yoruba and know my oyinbos do not have a clue.

  19. Ufuoma

    June 30, 2014 at 2:24 pm

    My father is isoko & my mother is from a part of rivers state that speaks ibani something similar to kalabari (sounds that way to my ears) and since they both spoke English to each other none of us ever really learnt it,I know some Yoruba having schooled and lived in Lagos but that’s about how far it goes in terms of nigerian languages,it makes me a little sad that I do not know their languages cos in my opinion they are very beautiful languages but I have bought books and I am forcing my father to have conversations with me cos I want to have something that is mine to pass on to my kids especially since I am living outside nigeria,for me it gives me a sense of connection to my motherland

  20. nammy

    June 30, 2014 at 3:23 pm

    I am tarok by tribe (from plateau state, Nigeria) my mum is yoruba (everone knows yoruba na) I can’t speak tarok which saddens me greatly, my yoruba is push nd start, but alas I speak hausa fairly fluently as I grew up in Jos. I rily wish I cld speak tarok, it breaks my hrt wen I hear it spoken, well am just hoping to learn my hussy’s lang nd teach my kids. Gisting in vernacular is fun, u just cannot xpress somethings in eng d way u do in vernacular.

    • ides of march

      July 1, 2014 at 9:30 am

      Oh my gosh I am so with you nammy! I’m tarok as well but can’t speak it or my mum’s language bachama, so sad. Meanwhile I am fluent in Hausa, have basic French and Spanish and know a bit of Yoruba. Now if only I can find someone to teach me the rest I’ll be golden.

  21. naveah

    June 30, 2014 at 4:09 pm

    I speak my native dialect and English, I am determined to learn Spanish and maybe French. My husband is from another country and we are both determined that our children will speak both my native dialect and his language in addition to Spanish/French which they will most likely have to take in school anyway. My philosophy about languages is the earlier you learn it or spoon feed it to your child the better. I think it is about putting the work in if you were never taught and also if as a parent, you and your husband speak two different languages. Children will usually learn their mother’s dialect/language first since that is usually the primary care giver. Some parents are either lazy or have inferiority complex, for instance I have a cousin who is Igbo and her husband is Igbo which they both speak but NONE of their three children speak it and they live in Owerri…what sense does that make? I was embarrassed for her to tell the God’s honest truth. She is so proud that her children are blowing English, she can’t even remember their Igbo names when I asked her because she only uses their English names, meanwhile she can’t have a private conversation anywhere with her children and when they attend events they have no clue what is being said or done. It is terrible.

    I live in New York, I see many children from Korea, China, Japan, Puerto Rico, France, Germany, Poland, India, Pakistan, Ecuador, Mexico, Argentina, Russia etc They speak their languages with their parents and these kids are born and raised right here in the US but when I meet Nigerian kids, they can’t speak their parents language. I just shake my head because soon Nigerians will only speak in that fake Britico-American “accent” I hear everyone use when I go home and no one will be able to speak their native language all because we want to belong.

  22. Katriel

    June 30, 2014 at 4:10 pm

    Another interesting topic frm you Atoke. I do admire people who can speak different languages whether nigerian or not. I come from Kaduna and speak hausa and have a local dialect called Jaba. my parents never spoke it with me but my curiositiy made me learn and would ask aunties and househelps as a kid to speak to me. As an adult i understand jaba but can only respond back in JAba as i cant pronounce Jaba words properly and parents were impressed that i learnt despite not teaching me.

    I have a grea feelig i will not marry a guy from the same tribe as me so i intend to ensure my kids learn english, hausa and my husbands language and open them up to other foreign lanuagaes (eg Italian, French, Spanish, Mandarin, Russian, Japanese or German). Thi swill gives kids an extra edge when they grow up f they want to explore their options internationally.

    My mum speaks perfect french and i knoe the number of types organisations have called her to make speeches on behalf of organisation or nation just because she has the langauge skill.

    No knwledge is lost. I started taking up mandarin lessons a couple of years ago and people were like why mandarin? I though why not!!! not sure how many nigerians would go and study it and puts one is another niche. I did procastinate after a while and didnt go for lessons but this article has definitely spurred it back and signing up again.

    Thank you Atoke and you never know might me repping naija some day because of the skill 🙂

  23. OgeAdiro

    June 30, 2014 at 5:02 pm

    My life will be incomplete without my guttural Igbo dialect. Mz Socially Awkward…, just so you know, okwu Owerri is the mmanu ańu of Igbo dialects.

  24. babygiwa

    June 30, 2014 at 6:42 pm

    As a sociologist in training, i think it is important for us to understand our local dialects. There is no country that attained greatness outside their culture and if Nigeria is serious about becoming relevant in the global sphere then we need to take our culture (and languages) more seriously. And i am happy i speak Yoruba fluently because it gives me great joy. Ps: I want to learn French after school.

  25. babygiwa

    June 30, 2014 at 6:46 pm

    And Igbo and Hausa just becus! I read Prof Achebe’s and Chimamanda’s books and I go like: wow! that is so cool even though I don’t understand Igbo. I read books by writers that identify strongly with their roots just to pick up a few things about their language

  26. Bobosteke & Lara Bian

    June 30, 2014 at 9:03 pm

    It has never been about economic relevance to me. It would just be a huge disservice to myself to speak just one international language. I used to speak two, but the other one is rusty from disuse. Anyone with information on where to learn Spanish and Portuguese in Lagos and its environs should please post it here, in English please. Thank you.

  27. larz

    July 1, 2014 at 12:42 pm

    It is rude when you go to Lagos secretariat and everyone is speaking in Yoruba. Why? Because Nigeria is multi lingual and you expect to go to Lagos and expect that everyone there can speak Yoruba. It makes sense only in countries where there has a common language or where despite multilingual status, they have made Yoruba the lingua franca and teach/ do business with it.

  28. lere

    July 1, 2014 at 1:09 pm

    So I grew up speaking 3 languages English,French and Igbo, it was a bit crazy cos at a point I remember people making fun of me cos i carried a French accent in English. Now I have a kid and am insisting she learns 5 languages,Igbo ,French,English,mandarin,and Spanish oh cos she has to have the advantage oh

  29. Chinma Eke

    July 1, 2014 at 3:42 pm

    I speak English, Igbo (Ohafia dialect), Yoruba and French, do I qualify as multi-lingual? lol.
    Anyways, the language thing is a function of frequency of hearing it and interest. Sorry, I forgot Pidgin English too! That’s also a language.
    I think its a good thing to be able to understand and speak more than one foreign language, planning on learning more languages.

    • Idak

      July 3, 2014 at 9:52 am

      I really do not think it is just a function of frequency of hearing and interest. Some folks are just hopeless when it comes to languages. The only way to cure this is to start at an early age. Never too early.

  30. honeymix...

    July 1, 2014 at 5:48 pm

    famzing @adelegirl, my fellow ijesa girl, would you allow me teach you the little ijesa i can speak and the much i understand. ‘Ijesa ni me re.’

  31. Mrs SS

    July 2, 2014 at 3:57 pm

    I am Zambian we have 77 dialects and I speak 5 of these. My mother is from the west and I can speak her her language (Lozi) my father is from the south and I can speak tongaleya. I am also very good English with a good accent and a few french words. So I think its a decision one makes to learn their mother tongue.

  32. maguire

    July 13, 2014 at 8:56 am

    Am I the only person who lives in Lagos and cnt speak a word in Yoruba? I mean born and bred in Lagos but with no significant assimilation! My spoken Igbo is neither here nor there and this make me sad. How can I improve?

  33. Owelle

    July 14, 2014 at 3:35 pm

    I speak English, Igbo and Yoruba, yet I’m not anywhere near satisfied. I just started taking french and spanish classes and I don’t plan to stop there. I’m always so jealous of my mulTilingual friends. My children will speak a minimum of 5 languages. The importance of being multilingual can never be overemphasised, however, I think your mother tongue is the most important.

  34. momma

    July 21, 2014 at 6:17 pm

    Glad I ran into this article and I’ve been through all the comments. I admire pple who are multi-lingual, unfortunately, I understand only English, Central Igbo and my dialect. Can’t speak fluent Yoruba even though I’ve lived in a town in SW Nigeria for 10 years noW! (Sad). Now I’m married to a Yoruba man and I seriously long for my kids to speak good English and either Igbo or Yoruba, then other foreign languages. God help me to help them.

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