Language is “a body of words and the systems for their use which is common to a people who may be of the same community, nation, geographical area, culture or tradition”.
Since God speaks and will want His children to hear, understand and act accordingly, He gave humankind ‘language’ as the tool for communication. This also makes it possible for man to communicate with his fellow humankind conveniently.
At Babel, it ceased to be a language, but languages (Genesis 11:9). It was here that the first tower was built. This tells you that the proper use of language can aid development.
The late South African President Nelson Mandela said: “If you talk to someone in the language he understands, it goes into his head but if you talk to him in the language he speaks, it goes to his heart”.
“Local languages constitute the majority of languages spoken across our world in the field of science. They are also the most endangered. Excluding languages means excluding those who speak them from their fundamental human right to scientific knowledge,” The Director General, UNESCO, Irina Bokova
UNESCO advocates for mother tongue instruction in a bilingual or multilingual education approach in early years because of its importance in creating a strong foundation for learning: the use of mother tongue with your children at home or in pre-school prepares them for the smooth acquisition of literacy in their mother tongue and eventually, the acquisition of the second (perhaps national) language at a later stage in their schooling.
The position of UNESCO towards multilingual education is strengthened as part of its efforts to promote global citizenship education.
UNESCO defines bilingual and multilingual education as “the use of two or more languages as mediums of instruction”. The organisation adopted the term ‘multilingual education’ in 1999 to refer to the use of at least three languages in education: the mother tongue; a regional or national language and an international language.
The importance of mother tongue and mother tongue instruction in early years of schooling is emphasised in the findings of studies, research and reports such as the annual UNESCO EFA Global Monitoring Report.
It is in line with this that UNESCO declared a particular day of the year (February 21, every year) to be celebrated as an International Mother Language Day with its appropriate themes.
Ghana celebrates this day, particularly the institutions that promote the development of the indigenous languages such as the University of Education - Winneba, the Bureau of Ghana Languages (BGL), the Bible Society of Ghana and Ghana Institute of Languages and Bible Translation (GILLBT). Even though this is done yearly, it is done somewhat on the quiet.
If we want the Language Policy to work as expected, then it is time:
- The Ghana Education Service (GES) collaborates with these institutions to create the awareness of the importance of the local language through the celebration of the day;
- The BGL – the only government institution that is established to develop and publish literature in the local languages for use in educational institutions and by the general public – gets directly involved in all decisions to be arrived at in terms of material development since that is why they exist;
- The BGL is brought directly under the Ministry of Education (as before) since the direct beneficiaries of its products are mainly pupils and students;
- The government resources the BGL, which has professional language experts who work with language committees
- At least a local or Ghanaian language must be studied at the senior high school level in the first two years (apart from the junior high school (JHS), upper and lower primary levels).
We can dream as a nation to become the next ‘America’, the next ‘Malaysia’, the next ‘Korea’, the next ‘Germany’, the next ‘Japan’ and a few. But we must know that the first ‘America’, the first ‘Malaysia’, the first ‘Korea’, the first ‘Germany’ and the first ‘Japan’ got to where they are now by first developing their own languages which were very much useful as basic tools for development.
UNESCO, an International Organisation, knew this, hence its policy and annual global celebrations as far as the mother language is concerned. Note that language is part of culture: once our languages are gone, our culture is gone. Also, the real and natural identity of a person is his/her language. It is,therefore, a fact that one’s identity is lost once he/she does not understand or speak his/her native language and as expected. An alien on his/her own native soil and yet independent? Give it a thought.
The writer is a teacher. Writer’s e-mail: [email protected]