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.