Can Nigerians speak English properly?

NigeriaBack to the mother tongue


Oyenike Ajiboye, Samuel Oke and Titilope Keshinro discuss what annoys them most about their studies. At her university, the University of Ibadan, there is another strike. In all of Nigeria this happens almost every semester, which often extends the course for years. The three would like to complete their master’s degree without delay.

After completing a bachelor's degree in linguistics, they study Yoruba, one of the three major indigenous lingua franca in Nigeria. It is spoken by around 40 million people in the southwest and in the border region in neighboring Benin. The student Oyenike Ajiboye is currently experiencing a growing interest in the language.

"For some time now, more and more people have been studying Yoruba, even if they don't speak the language properly. That's why, as a native speaker, I wanted to learn more about the language, learn it better and encourage others to do so.

"English and French are not more important"

The growing interest is also reflected in the numbers from the Yoruba Language Center at Ibadan University. It is Nigeria's oldest college founded in 1948. 50 students are currently enrolled in the Bachelor and Master programs. A native speaker level is a prerequisite for admission to the course. Then there are doctoral students.

Outside the center, however, the director, Professor Oye Taiwo, has to do a lot of promoting Yoruba. "We linguists are advocates of our languages. We explain how important our mother tongues are. And we say: English and French are no more important than our mother tongues."

Yoruba is not a dialect, but a fully fledged language

This attitude from the colonial era has persisted to this day and is particularly widespread among academics and those who have come up to school. Professor Taiwo: "The elite believe that the more they speak English with their children, the better they become in that language. We declare that this is not the case."

Instead, according to Professor Taiwo, growing up with two languages ​​promotes language acquisition. After all: Yoruba, Haussa or Igbo - these are the two other major lingua franca languages ​​- are taught as foreign languages ​​at secondary schools. However, normal classes are held in English. Sometimes the use of the mother tongue is even forbidden in the schoolyard. Oyenike Ajiboye is indignant:

"From the beginning we should think that Yoruba is a dialect, not a full-fledged language. But I don't see it that way. To understand that you belong to a group that speaks the same language is a gift."

Job prospects through mother tongue

Indigenous languages ​​not only create identity, they also increasingly offer job prospects. Graduates work as subject teachers at secondary schools or in the media sector. It is mainly radio stations that have several languages ​​in their program. However, Samuel Oke has a different idea. After graduating, he would like to combine technical innovations with the language of his ancestors:

"If you buy a technical device, you can set the language for it. Yoruba is usually not included. If the language gains in importance, then companies will follow suit and offer Yoruba as a language setting. This in turn can win customers."

English is the official language of Nigeria. According to estimates by the Ethnologue, an annual publication on the languages ​​of the world, not even one in three Nigerians speaks it. That makes strengthening indigenous languages ​​all the more important, says Samuel Oke. "My parents don't speak English at all. That's why I'm forced to speak Yoruba even if I don't want to. Today I also speak Yoruba - my language - with my colleagues."