Languages
Page last updated at 14:17 GMT, Friday, 24 June 2005 15:17 UK

How important is your mother tongue?

Janet Nahr
Janet Nahr wants children to use their mother tongues
A Ghanaian woman living in the UK has produced a series of videos to teach the children of African immigrants their home language, because many of these children grow up speaking only English.

And with the growth of international media, business and the internet, even in Africa - especially in cities - people can grow up not knowing the language of their forefathers.

Many smaller languages may soon disappear. But does this matter?

As long as people can express themselves, what difference does it make what language they do it in? How important is it to be in touch with one's cultural roots?

Let us know your views using the form on the right.

A selection of your e-mails will appear below and be broadcast on the BBC's Focus on Africa programme on 25 June at 1700GMT.

Using the mother tongue and forgetting western life is IMPOSSIBLE thanks to globalization and other stuff so I would say it is by far better actually to learn languages (English, French, Dutch....) which we believe will help our children bring change to Africa faster by letting them have their information in a language they understand. I would support ENGLISH.
Jonas, Italy

Language is an inextricable part of a person's culture. Name and food alone does not make one belong to a certain culture, but may provide a link to a person's cultural root. You need the language to effectively practice, communicate and appreciate certain unique rituals. There are many people who borrow a name and diet from other cultures and have no other connection. If one is intent on retaining his/her culture, language is the key. What makes one a Kikuyu if they cannot speak Kikuyu? He/She is a pseudo Kikuyu from a generous perspective. Imagine such a person in a Kikuyu ceremony not understanding anything being said, they will surely feel like an outsider.
Ndegwa Mahinda, Kenyan, In the US

It's very important for one to be able to speak his/her dialect if given the opportunity and that is regardless of where one was born or grew up. We are Africans, black and we'll never be considered to be European even if we change our citizenship or live in Europe for decades so let us not pretend just because we were born in Europe or America. Why are the black in the USA called African American and not Americans only? This must be a lesson for many African who are trying to claim to be special and different from us in Africa.
Kapinga Ntumba, Harare, Zimbabwe

Do the French want their children to speak English only? Africans must stay in touch with their culture. Why take on someone else's culture when one day they will reject you and you be lost in the wilderness. My mother language is what differentiates me from the cultureless westerners.
Regerai, Avondale, USA

African children in foreign land should be encouraged to learn their parents' native tongue. There is no better way to self identify with your Africa root then speaking the language. If they are not taught these language how will they communicated with people in the villages when they go to visit. Do they expect to speak French or any other language to a 75 year old granny that have never left the village for any country?
Blessing A. Young, Liberian in the U.S.A

I firmly believe that one of the reasons why Africa has not developed as fast as the people in the far East is partly due to the fact that most parts of Africa use foreign language to communicate. After being in the UK for 35 years there are still words in my native language that I cannot express in English.
Stephen Dapaah, London, UK

There is no doubt in my mind that it will be in the best interest of Africa's pride if our children are taught to speak their native language. While it is true that most African tribes are small and not written, we should develop programs that will teach our children especially those born in urban settings to understand their culture by learning their native tribes. Our children will better understand the norms and values associated with their cultural heritage is they are given the opportunity to understand these values in their own language. It will also help them to understand and be proud of their parent's origin.
Asumana Pelima, Liberian in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania

It's sad to see African children ending up not speaking their mother tongue. If one takes a look at Spanish living in the US, the kids speak their mother tongue and English as well. Indians do the same and why not Africans.
Doris, USA

African children have got to learn their mother tongue. How many Europeans who were born in Africa stopped speaking their mother tongue?
Murhula, from DR Congo living in South Africa

I think it's proper that African children grow up speaking their mother tongue. If they speak their mother tongue the will be able to express themselves in their own language thereby remaining true to their identity and culture as Africans... if children are raised speaking a foreign language they subscribe to the culture of that language... their whole person is judged by the standards of that culture hence they become aliens to themselves and their culture
Bupe, Blantyre, Malawi

Personally, I would want the world to adopt a universal language. The issue of mother tongue is indirectly dealing heavy blows on the society, but people don't understand. The increasing spate of communal violence in most countries of the world and Africa in particular is rooted on language difference. Once a group of people identify themselves as speaking the same type of jargon, they see themselves as brothers and sisters; others who cannot identify with them are regarded either as inferior class or outright enemies. African children shouldn't be burdened so much with mother tongue. It limits their horizon and builds heavy barriers of hatred around them. Again, scientists have been spending sleepless nights trying to reduce the world into a global village. We should endeavour to help them achieve that aim by not emphasizing or nurturing language differences.
George Nworie, Abakaliki, Nigeria

Learning the tongue of your ancestors may contribute to a person understanding and preserving his/her cultural background. On the other hand, that will on the long run only make sense if a person is interested in maintaining close relationships (business contacts, development aid, education) with the country of his / her ancestors. Just learning and speaking a language without any relevant contact with the country of origin will only result in social segregation of a group of second/third generation immigrants. If certain languages are disappearing in Africa, I suppose it is ultimately up to the people who are still speaking it to decide whether they want to make an effort to preserve its existence.
Rinze van Minnen, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Yes, yes, yes! Children of Africa should be brought up speaking their mother tongue or tongues if the case applies. It is important not to let them forget that they are African and it is a continent of diverse cultures and languages. Even when they are of mixed cultures and races, they should be taught the languages of their parents. I was brought up to speak three different languages when many of my compatriots speak one or two and I am very proud of my mother tongue. I speak it all the time. It is embarrassing and annoying for children to speak English to their grandparents who may not understand it. Teach them their mother tongue and culture - they might thank you for it later! If they want to learn other languages like French and Spanish, that's fine too. Children cope easily and can understand many languages if they are taught early enough.
Shiko, Nairobi, Kenya



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