A worrisome sense of loss nibbles at the hearts of many diaspora Nigerians, especially those of Igbo filiation, who raise children outside the shores of Nigeria. While they enjoy the trappings of comfort and stability which diaspora life confers, many live with that nagging reminder that the children they are raising do not share their worldview, lifestyle and language.
Of all the disconnects between diaspora Nigerians and their progenies, the most troubling is the loss of language. When children do not speak the language of their parents, there is a severe sense of heritable loss that cannot be ignored. Language is the primary vehicle for transmitting culture. Without language, the nuances of any culture are lost, or diluted at best. This explains why most diaspora communities are struggling to establish language programs in an attempt to bestow their languages on their children.
But language programs in the Diaspora have received mixed results. Most language programs operate only for a couple of weekend hours when children are out of school. Oftentimes, these programs do not have skilled language teachers and therefore supplement with available native speakers who, while fluent in the language, lack the skills to teach it.
In situations like this, the language programs tend to become a playtime for the children. While the values of the playtime in building a community cannot be trivialized, they do not always yield the desired linguistic results. The programs that fare better are those that can afford trained teachers and linguists, and those with more engaged parents who find the time to reinforce at home any teachings the children would have received from the program.
The question that begs an answer then is: why do children of Nigerians in the diaspora, particularly those of Igbo heritage, struggle so much with picking up the languages of their parents? We will begin our excursion into this enchanted topic in the next edition of Tribes & Tongues. Please join us.
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