How to Help Your Child Speak Your Native Language

Some language experts say our native languages are dying and there’s some truth in it. It’s worrisome when a 21-year-old Yoruba girl does not know the meaning of ‘wa ki n pa e’, which means ‘come, let me kill you’.

Growing up on Lagos Island and speaking Yoruba easily was not something special. It was normal for a Yoruba kid to speak Yoruba.

Before I was 5 years old, I could say basic Catholic prayers in Yoruba and knew the right abusive Yoruba words to say to my friends, who tackled me roughly in a game of football.

But during this period, within the same city of Lagos and other urban areas, native languages were losing their value because some parents and teachers were discouraging children from speaking their native language.

How it all Began: No Speaking of Vernacular

Photo by RODNAE Productions

The word ‘vernacular’ means the language spoken by a people in a particular area, but the way our teachers used it then was degrading.

I remember a teacher gave me three strokes of cane because I greeted my friend in Yoruba. It became shameful and scary to speak our mother tongue in our land.

It made the message clear to us, intentional or not, that the English language was superior to our native languages.

Native Language Makes Children Poor English Speakers

The worst of it all is the myth that the native language negatively affects children’s use of the English language.

This is not true. In fact, being able to speak your native language makes it easy to learn the English language faster.

But some schools and parents perpetuated this assumption and passed it down to my generation.

Today, millennials find it hard to speak their native languages to their kids, and that is troubling.

At the rate we are losing native language speakers, English will be so indispensable in the 21st century that it will displace some languages.

What might even shock you further is the possibility that you could forget your native language as an adult.

Can we Save the Situation?

Considering how millennials are used to speaking English to their kids, you might think it is impossible to get your child to speak your native language.

You can still save the situation, but it will take more individual effort because it doesn’t seem to be an important agenda for the government.

Here are a few things to get you started.

Start With the Basics

Teach your kids how to greet in your native language, the words for parts of the body, and the items used in the house, like kitchen utensils, furniture, and clothes.

You can also teach them folk and popular songs, which makes it easy for them to pick up words when other people speak the language.

For example, I noticed my daughter can figure out the sentence, ‘di oju e’ (close your eyes) because she knows the word for ‘eye’ is ‘oju’.

Expose Your Child to Local Content

Photo by August de Richelieu

If you live in an area where the local TV station runs programs in your native language, find family programs that you and the kids can watch together.

Some of these programs might bore or lack the quality of cable TV channels, but they offer opportunities for the kids to learn their language.

Speak the Language with Your Kids

If you want your child to speak your native language, start a conversation with them and encourage them to reply in the language.

Speaking the language with your kids offers teachable moments where they learn new words, and appreciate the value of their mother tongue.

But don’t shout at your kid or make it a difficult process because it might discourage him.

A child should not think learning his language is like learning any difficult school subject. Make it fun.

Conclusion: It Will Take Some Efforts

Ten Nigerian languages are now extinct, and we are fast losing speakers of other native languages.

If you, as a millennial parent, don’t encourage your child to speak your native language, there will be fewer speakers of these languages by the time you are old.

As a generation, we have to help our kids speak our native languages, to stop them from losing significance or becoming extinct.

Do you find it difficult to speak your native language to your kids? Do you have other wonderful ideas to help kids speak their native language? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.

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Writer and Storyteller. I create content for filmmakers and small businesses. I blog about writing, personal growth, & living a successful creative life.

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Ladipo Titiloye

Ladipo Titiloye

Writer and Storyteller. I create content for filmmakers and small businesses. I blog about writing, personal growth, & living a successful creative life.