Learning Yoruba in diaspora

A week before Day of Languages my daughters are used to Yoruba crash course, mostly due to them showing temporary interest in learning, I follow their leads on words they are interested to learn, often simple greetings and few letter words –  this, we have done for the last four years.

At 7 & 8, they should have made better improvement beyond few words and a couple of memorised songs, but I did not introduce them to Yoruba language from infant. My excuses were endless; I am the only Yoruba speaker in the family, they started nursery at six months and I don’t want additional barrier to settling in, the list goes on. Shameful, I know, nothing to brag about.

Over the years, I have realised three factors that have contributed to my girls’ interest in learning Yoruba.

Aye + Yeye with friendsFirst is the trips to my hometown where they get to play around children their own age. The longest we’ve stayed in recent years is two weeks during school holidays. I have seeing them going from sticking to family members to feeling comfortable around neighbours – all of whom speak Yoruba as their first language but for my girls’ sake these children speak English when we are around. Now, the interest is that they love to blend in speaking Yoruba (as broken as it may sound) to broaden their knowledge.

Secondly, at school both have at least 2 children in class who speak relatively well in another language other than English, French (taught at school). Day of Languages is meant to be European Days of Language but the school is supportive of all languages including those outside of Europe. Parents are invited to share knowledge of other language/s they speak. They are not only welcome, but encouraged which works well to our advantage.

I have volunteered for this event in prior years to talk briefly about Yoruba as a language, demographic, traditions and culture – fun and such a great opportunity to get a glimpse at how children behave in class.

Because language does not exists in isolation, a little insight into the traditions and culture goes a long way to trigger interest, I have found.

One example is a few weeks ago when my 8year old went on a school trip to a local museum notable for its African art collections. In the evening she shared her experience of the day:

“You would not believe what happened at the museum today!”  she said

“Please share,” as the excitement is enough tip that it was good news.

At the museum was a room filled with lots of African related artefacts; drums, masks, beads etc the teacher walked around explaining each item and its significance to the group, highlighting origin of each piece – the history and cultural beliefs associated from home country.

When the teacher came to a particular piece, it was an Egungun mask (masquerade) and said it was from Nigeria.

“This time, all eyes were on me.” She said with a grin, proud that an item from Nigeria had interesting history behind it.

So the proud Yoruba girl went closer to read the caption on the mask, alas it was written in Yoruba.

“Did you give it a go?” I asked

“I did, but I scratched my head for a long time as I don’t understand.”  She replied.

Trying hard to please mates waiting patiently to see if she could translate some words – no real success that day.

Now, I speak Yoruba at home most of the time, if we have time they take notes. We have a few Yoruba children books that are nicely illustrated, also a couple of Yoruba apps. What I have found most helpful so far is me continuing to speak in Yoruba even if I have to translate, real life interaction makes a huge difference.

If I could do it again, I’d speak Yoruba to them right from birth however, it is nice to know we have a second chance and this time it wasn’t about me anymore, it is them really interested. My job is to keep the furnace of passion going.

With perseverance, in a few years they can both laugh when listening to Titi without head scratching, fingers crossed.


PS: Makupsy, as promised.

Àgbájọ ọwọ́ laa fi s’ọ̀yà

The following is the four-minute long where Ooni Ogunwusi spoke in mother tongue during an interview after his coronation. Interesting interview overall, however the Yoruba section is very important hence I decided to transcribe and translate it.

Hope it is. K’ade pe l’ori.

From 39:32 – 43:20

Thank you very much. I am pleased that it is God that chose me for this position, also that I am young. All of our elders, when I was prince, they had children of my age as well as those that are older than me. Prayers, like I said – every parents pray to see their children successful like them and sometimes hope they will be more successful than they ever were.

Prayers, all parents pray. And God has blessed the elders, when I was prince, I was their son, and now that I am in a position above them, I will not forget that I am once their son.

Even as I am in a position above them now, it is the will of God. What have I done? God makes it all easy for me.

I started going to all the elders, imploring them that one can only beat chest with all fingers (team work benefits all). I am holding on to your feet (King holding onto elders’ feet for support).

I will absorb all that you say, I will still hold on to you for collective support because of our youths so all can be well for all…I am pleased today. In Ife, there is a long standing crisis, what did I do? Ife, Modakeke no one prays for communal crisis because whoever initiated crisis can never be sure of how it will end. No one knows what the end result of communal crisis will bring. May the lord spare us from crisis.

So I said, no more crisis, no more grudge.

Because it was part of my fore fathers’ praise poem/song, I am not involved in communal crisis.

Unity is all that I am after. No supremacy. No father. Each person is free to be on own territory  because town supposed to grow/ spread out, and we will all be there to grow with it.

Therefore, I am going to work with the elders. I give thanks to God, I am communicating with them. I am thankful that all of the elders received me with open arms.

Firstly, I started at Ilẹ̀ Ifẹ̀,  charity begins at home. I say…Modakeke let us put end to this crisis. We worked with all the surrounding villages to reiterate this, God did that for us.

Then I went around Yorubaland to all our elders and the kings, reaching out to everyone. Ekiti, Osun, Oyo, Ondo, Ogun and all the way to Kwara imploring everyone that we must stop needless bickering – one can only beat chest with all fingers (teamwork benefits us all).


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