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.

20 thoughts on “Learning Yoruba in diaspora

  1. I will say something this time. At least I get to know a bit more about you today 🙂 as for your plans to teach them the language, I’m proud of you! I talk in-between discussions with my children in our language. Recently, I found a book of our folktales written in English with a bit of our language and my daughter finds it very interesting…she enjoys the book! Ekong Nke by Ini Ite Ubong (check it out)
    Thankfully, the author has a glossary of the meaning at the end of the tales. For us I teach them both mine and King’s version of our language. Well done. Eku se . For your info, my children (especially King-Earl) is tending toward calling animals and numbers in Yoruba a lot.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you.

      I like that you have two different versions of your language in the house – that will help to broaden the kids knowledge.

      Ini Ite Ubong sounds like a good book, reading briefly about the book, I can see why your daughter enjoys it – animal characters in stories work well with children’s imagination. Well, I love animal stories too.

      Good for KE and his sister! Joke aside Queen, you can agree with me that Yoruba is contagious, we rob off people in good ways 🙂 Eko o ni baje!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. LOL and smiling as I reply ‘good for them’ cos mummy is not really a language person but you don’t say something nasty and get away with it, I will somehow know. I think it’s a grace I have.


  2. Dear Folakemi,

    These comments from the re-blog on my site all belong in your blog for the benefit of your readers.


    Shamefully , Yoruba children in the S.West of Nigeria can not even speak a word of Yoruba.. Children learn best in their mother tongue not foreign one according to late Prof Babs Fafunwa OAU(Minister of Education) .

    It is a serious problem.I came cross some kids ,born in Mushin ,grew up at Molete,Ibadan and went to Obafemi Awolowo University ,they can’t speak Yoruba language.
    We need to do something now.We are all guilty ,one form or the other.

    Several times Prof Wade Abimbola and Rt Gen Olurotimi William daily cried out at Howard Unversity to the Yoruba group not to let our mother tongue die a natural death.

    Can you believe it, my nieces at Osogbo, Nigeria, do not want their kids to speak Yoruba! What a shame .

    I strongly believe that all the governors in S West states must make the language a must at all Kindergarten/day care /elementary schools.

    Wake up call to our Yoruba political leaders
    I agree totally with Prof Fafunwa. This writer is guilty; even I have refused to speak English to my twin grandchildren,who do not speak one word of Yoruba and they are 6 yrs old here in Lagos!


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much Mrs Adenle for posting these comments, appreciate it.

      I do agree that the problem of reducing Yoruba to colloquial language in Nigeria is an issue that need to be addressed. I believe we need more than getting the children to learn properly at school. The government can’t do it alone, parents and guardians too need to be involved and more so see the need to.

      Community galleries and museums are excellent ways of broadening culture appreciation – these can be sponsored by both interested members of the public and the government. Language and knowledge of culture go hand in hand.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I attended a Yoruba class ran at Elephant and Castle – it was conducted by Prof Akin Oyetade. It was great, but there was only one lesson a week. The book we used was “Yoruba d’un so” by Prof Karin Barber, it was was great simple comical illustrations and how one can form basic sentences. I’m not sure if it’s available now. The book doesn’t look much, but it was fun to go through.
    The custodian of culture really lies with the Mother, if she doesn’t pass on the culture, it creates a uphill battle for the children to reconnect to part of their identity.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ha, that’s great! I met Prof Oyetade long time ago at SOAS, not sure if he’s still there but Yoruba language is still being taught at the school.

      I have a few copies of Karin Barber’s books mostly on traditions + culture, she has done incredible work documenting lots of Yoruba oral history, fantastic scholar she is.

      Not sure if you feel the same way being born here, but I sense that amongst certain group, there is increasing awareness of exposing children to the language and culture of home country (not the made up Owambe type o). Did you feel that way growing up here?


      1. In my particular case it was my Aunt (my father’s eldest sister). She at the time was based in Nigeria, and told him (on one of her visits here), that it was no use in him wishing for me to return to Nigeria, if I never visited the place. How will I fit in, if I can’t speak a word of the language? So that is how I made my first to Nigeria in the early 80s, and several more afterwards.
        I can agree with you, that Nigerians are keen to expose their kids to the language and culture of the homeland. Yorubas are good like that (it is not unknown for the kids to spend sometime in Nigeria to learn the language before returning back), Igbos not so much, though they are being nudged by their Yoruba neighbours not to let the culture wither on the vine, so some belated steps are being taken.
        I never could speak either Yoruba or Igbo due to lack of exposure. To learn both languages remains on my ‘to do’ list.
        My Nigerian friends were mainly Yoruba, and I liked the sound of the language, so I opted for Yoruba class (outside of school ie at Elephant and Castle). So I can say a few sentences and even understand a little.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. That’s cool.

          You are right, exposure to environment where the language is primarily spoken is important. But now, taking a year leave to Nigeria, in no time you’ll be ‘Ke du, odinma’ expert.


    2. For those in diaspora, check out simple books used in elementary schools at home thru relations in Nigeria. Also check out like SPEAK YORUBA APP from aja.la.co. a related old essay is at my blog: YORUBA AND OTHER DISAPPEARING LANGUAGES at emotanafricana.com written about a decade ago for a weekly newspaper column.

      It is a serious problem. Many in Nigeria as noted by a contributor above do not speak the language to their children. And it’s very easy for kids to pick it up once someone starts speaking it to them even without any formal lessons.

      Thanks for this post, Folakemi. We all have hands in stopping the trend as you noted.

      Regards, as always,

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s helpful mentioning Speak Yoruba app. It is handy and easy to use for kids. I have found a couple of letters there that Oyo Yoruba don’t use (U and H). For example, Usu for yam and harahara for goat – peculiar words like these are useful to broaden knowledge.


        1. Dear JCO,

          I’m really happy the subject is getting much-needed attention, and especially that younger people are waking up to the usefulness of teaching kids our language.

          Ìwọ na ṣe gan for the interest.

          My regards,

          Liked by 1 person

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