Mother tongue at the mercy of English


Today, the extreme interest in promoting the English language has reached such a monstrous level, so much that we find English academies, English books and CDs collecting loads of money.

This interest has brought a lot of pressure on parents, and caused children to be raised by television, as they watch cartoons before they can even speak. Most of the children nowadays are, therefore, being raised with English as their main language.

Watching cartoons will undoubtedly help children to improve their English. They will learn how to pronounce different words and their spoken English will greatly improve. This is very crucial, given the fact that English is undeniably the language of official jobs and most importantly the language of education. English has also become a stumbling block for many children’s success, as it has blocked many children from entering high academic institutions, like UNAM, NUST and IUM to establish their careers. This fact has not only become a concern to the government, but also to the parents, leaving them desperate and willing to do whatever it takes to make sure their children pass English to get into institutions of higher learning.

The parent’s effort is commendable, but the question is, are we possibly compromising our mother tongues, culture and values as well as our identity as Africans in our quest to promote English?

It should not be forgotten that just as English (second language) is important, mother tongue (first language) is equally important. First language plays an important role in the construction of personal, cultural and social identity.

Moreover, culture is preserved in the language.

Thus, by raising our children with English and not exposing them to their indigenous languages at all, we risk losing our culture. Children, nowadays, cannot communicate with their grandparents and we seem to be proud of that.

However, we might be proud that our children cannot speak their mother tongue, but what we do not realise is that the mother tongue helps our children to construct their identity and get a clear sense of belonging.

Claims are often made that today’s youth have lost their values and culture. Yet, the truth is, in the quest to promote English, we have also forgotten to instil values and culture in our children. The values, norms and morals of the same cultural groups are easily passed on from one generation to the other through their shared language and somewhere along the lines we forgot to do this very important job, of passing on African values onto our children. It is high time to realise that we have played a role in nowadays youth being confused about who they are or adopting western cultures. In the end we all are guilty for this identity conflict and it is not always the children’s fault that they are at the edge of losing their culture, values and even their identity.

There are many important values in our cultures that cannot be expressed by any foreign language. The truth is, our children cannot learn their African values and culture through English language, but through their indigenous languages. However, if these cultures and values are not passed on to our children, we face the danger of losing our culture and putting our indigenous languages in danger of extinction. A time will come when the only generation left to pass on the culture and language, has completely adopted Western culture and languages, and when that time comes, would we still dare call ourselves Africans? There is thus, a strong need to balance the promotion of the two languages, as they both have equally important roles to play in today’s society.

Many children believe that their mother tongue is boring, they would rather communicate in English even when both speakers involved in the conversation can speak the same language. It is so serious, so much that even children who are bold enough to go to university and study their mother tongue are mostly laughed at and bullied by their peers because, according to them, these are the most boring people on earth. It is our duty to change this mind set.

Mother tongue survival equals culture survival. It is, therefore, the duty of every Namibian to take responsibility in preserving our indigenous languages while at the same time we must not forget the need to learn English. All I am pleading for is the balance between these two equally important languages. We should not give glory to one and forget the other. Instead, let us promote equal opportunities for both of these languages to shine. Parents can help in this regard more than they can imagine. Let this promotion start at home.

*Hambeleleni Hamunyela is a Masters in English student


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