• Basidia M Drammeh

Featured: When the African child is punished for speaking their native language!

Updated: Apr 19

According to prominent educationist Carolyn Savage, “When children develop their mother tongue, they are simultaneously fostering a whole host of other essential skills, such as critical thinking and literacy skills.”


However, many African children are forced to learn foreign languages since kindergarten, hence depriving them of the opportunity to enhance their mother tongue.


Not only are African children forced to learn a foreign language at the very formative stage, but they get penalized for speaking their indigenous languages in classrooms. The practice does not only constitute psychological torture and humiliation, but it is also an entrenchment of hegemony and colonialism even though Africa has attained self-rule for more than five decades. We, Africans, take pride in mastering foreign languages, primarily colonial varieties, such as English, French, Portuguese and German, rather than our mother tongues that we trash as subordinate to the so-called international languages. In Africa, a person’s education level is measured by their proficiency in colonial languages and how they can fluently communicate. In short, education is reduced to language proficiency, which illustrates the profoundness and entrenchment of the colonial mentality.


I continue to argue that the regression of science and technology in Africa is mainly attributed to the marginalization of our native languages. When we learn, we do so in languages that are not our own, hence making comprehension largely inaccessible. Concepts are hard to grasp in non-native languages; therefore, students’ inability to understand them does not underpin their intellectual deficiency. Critical thinking, which is a crucial component of science, is hard for African students because it’s acquired through one’s mother tongue. So a foreign language makes critical thinking a daunting task.


China, the world’s second-largest economy, prioritizes its language and does not shy away from using it in all international fora. The same is true for most Asian nations that have thrived and prospered using their native languages for various purposes. Ironically, the African elite sends their kids to international schools to perfect foreign languages.


Africa needs to learn from Tanzania’s experience, where Swahili has been elevated as an official language written and spoken in all formal settings.


Don’t get me wrong! The learning of a foreign language is beneficial, considering the nature of today’s global world, but it should not be at the expense of our languages. Research has shown that a strong mother tongue foundation equips children with the skills necessary to learn additional languages with ease.


It’s high time African governments prioritized indigenous languages and includes them in the education curricula to have a good mastery of the mother tongue at an early stage.


This is an open debate, so all are welcome to contribute in favour or against it.



Editor's note:

Views expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of GunjurOnline. Got an opinion article for publication? send it to us at GunjurNewsOnline@gmail.com


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