May 26, 2024



The Kenyan writer, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, once remarked, “If you know all the languages of the world and you don’t know your mother tongue, that is enslavement. But if you know your language and add to it all the languages of the world, that is empowerment. The choice for us is between intellectual enslavement and intellectual empowerment.”

As I ponder on Ngugi’s profound statement, aninteresting conversation that unfolded as we were engaged in the marketing of LearnITbytests’s newest product- online GIKUYU VERNACULAR CLASSES, comes to mind. One of our prospective clients Mama ‘Njungush’ had this to say:

“I am so thankful for such online programs that are aimed at helping our kids to learn their vernacularlanguages. As a mother, it is my dream for my son Njunguna to know and speak his mother tongue. I was worried that he was growing up fast and that he would never be able to speak his native language. So I decided to take him to my rural area over the holiday tospend time with his grandmother. My intention was for Njunguna to bond with his grandmother in addition to the hope that my mother would be able to train my only child in our native Gikuyu tongue.

But my expectations were soon broken. For barely a week had passed before my mother phoned me with a disheartening but somewhat funny account. On the call, my mom explained that Njunguna was frustrated. She narrated how she had instructed him to fetch some charcoal pieces from the house store and fire the Jiko(charcoal stove the Gikuyu language). At first, she had been happy when my son had executed the first part of the instruction seamlessly, fetching the charcoal from the house store and then heading for the jiko in the kitchen. He had to be learning swiftly, she had thought.  Immediately, she had asked Njunguna to check whether the charcoal presently within the stove was enough- And she had confidently directed her question to Njuguna in Gikuyu, of course. There, began the funny part in her story. When there had been no reporting back from Njunguna, my mom had decided to go to the kitchen herself. What she saw there shocked her. Njunguna was kneeling on the floor transfixed on a pile of hot charcoal pieces, desperately trying to count them one by one. My poor mother had been beside herself with shock. It was at that point, she narrated, that it became clear to her that Njunguna had to learn Gikuyu from a dedicated teacher her or else, in her exact words, ‘it could be a series ofembarrassments about to happen.’  “

Mama Njunguna knew one of the reasons that had made it hard for ‘Shosho’ to teach Njunguna was simply because her mother’s vernacular was deep, fluent and very advanced for any beginner to comprehend. Our online solution, the GikyuyuVernacular Classes, were a lifesaver to her expectations to be able to one day speak with her son in their own native tongue.

As a company, we believe that same sentiments exist for the Swahili language in the diaspora, just as any other vernacular language. Parents do have a great need and desire for their children to speak their homes’native language. As the prolific Kenyan writer, Ngugiwa Thiong’o, rightfully observed, “If you know all the languages of the world and you don’t know your mother tongue, that is enslavement.’’

We understand your concern as a parent when you are worried that your kid will ultimately forget their native language, along with their identity and homeland. We hold your desire dear. That is why at the LBT platform, we have come up with language solutions that will allow your kid to learn Gikuyu and Kiswahili virtually.Our tools will increase their confidence throughcurated tests that are designed to help them rememberwhat they have learnt, and to polish their ability to converse in their desired mother-tongue. As we welcome you to embark on this language journey with us, I leave you with an excerpt from the writer, Ngugiwa Thiong’o.

Ngugi wa Thiong’o: Young people are always the future of any country, the future of any nation. Do you want to know the character or the future of any nation? Look at the young people, what they are reading, what language they are speaking, what their behavioral patterns are, what knowledge they are getting and that will give a clue as to the future of that country.

So do you think Africa’s young generations can take the continent forward?

Yes, they can! But we have done them wrong, we the older generation, and the wrong thing we have done is we have made the languages of Europe as if they are the only ones which can bear knowledge, intelligence and everything else. This is very wrong. My policy which I am advocating is simple: Start with your mother tongue. Then, know which is the lingua franca or the language which can enable people from different linguistic communities to speak to each other and then add English, French, and any other language. So we have a minimum of three, I mean triple language policy. My philosophy is summed up this way: If you know all, and I mean all, the languages of the world and you do not know your mother tongue, that is enslavement. If you know your mother tongue and add all the languages of the world to it, that is empowerment.

[adapted from; Renowned Kenyan writer Ngugi waThiong’o has been in Germany, reading from his work at the event “Voices of Africa.” He spoke to DW about the crucial role of African languages in empowering the continent.]

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