Se itiju wa ninu èdè Yorùbá abi àṣà wa – Is there shame in the Yoruba language or our culture?

Bi won ba n beere pe kin ni awa Yoruba sonu ju laye yii, ede ati asa wa ni.

If they ask what we Yoruba’s throw away the most in this world, it’s our language and our culture.

I’ve been pondering over this question for a while now; Why is it that some Nigerian parents don’t teach their children their mother tongue?

I have come across so many Nigerian’s who do NOT know how to speak their mother tongue. Simply because their parents didn’t teach them. Ok fine, there aren’t many Yoruba language classes in the UK, but you can teach your children Yoruba within your home. I’ve come across parents who don’t believe in the importance of speaking their native language any longer and insist that English is far more important.

Granted, English is a great essential language, especially in the Western part of the world but learning your mother tongue is too. I’m using Yoruba as an example as it’s my mother tongue and I know so many Yoruba people who do not speak Yoruba and sometimes ask me to translate things for them! I find that this is often caused when parents relocate to the UK or the USA and develop an inferiority complex into believing that English is all they and their children need to be speaking and ultimately that their native language is no longer needed. WRONG! When children grow up and cannot speak their mother tongue, they are only going to be annoyed at their parents. When they travel back to Nigeria and everyone around them is speaking Yoruba and they cannot, that is where the embarrassment and frustration surfaces.

I have a Yoruba friend who moved to Nigeria after landing herself her dream job within the oil industry. She met her now husband shortly after her move and went to meet his family members before getting married. To cut that very long story short, let’s just say that her in-laws laughed at her in a pitiful manner based on the fact that she didn’t speak a word of Yoruba and neither did she understand much of the culture. At the age of 32, married with 2 children, she’s now teaching herself Yoruba from home and has developed a level of resentment towards her parents who didn’t take the time to teach her Yoruba.

As a mother who has never lived in Nigeria, but yet speaks, reads and writes Yoruba fluently, I cannot stress the importance of teaching your children your mother tongue and encouraging cultural competence.  At 10 months old, my daughter can follow commands in Yoruba and even utter the odd words. At present, she says ‘gba’ (take) when she hands something over to me and ‘bo’ (shortened from odabo meaning bye) when she waves. I don’t encourage her to spend hours in front of the television, but when she does get an opportunity to watch a programme, we have a few favourite YouTube channels such as Bino and Fino and Culture Tree TV who showcase educational cartoons and nursery rhymes in Yoruba, raising cultural awareness, cultural competence and instilling pride in Yoruba culture.

I grew up in a household where Yoruba was all we spoke. Being proud of my Nigerian and African heritage was heavily endorsed by both my mother and grandmother. If ever I was asked a question in Yoruba and replied back in English, I was quickly corrected, as this was seen to be rude in the Yoruba culture. Which was fantastic, because this led me to ask how I was meant to reply back in Yoruba and therefore, I learnt for the next time.

Why is it that many Indian’s migrate to the UK and still maintain their language and culture, yet we don’t? Are we ashamed of our language and culture? Has colonialism ingrained high levels of inferiority in us to the point where we longer want to be a part of our culture unless it’s for fashion, music or financial gain?

All comments are welcome, especially if you are a parent reading this I would love to hear your thoughts. Whether you speak a second language or not. Please feel free to comment below.

Thank you for reading.


Photography By Világszemle:


  1. I totally agree with you I grew up in a household where I spoke Luganda (Uganda) and had to reply to my parents in Luganda only and I am so glad they taught me how to speak Luganda and I will make sure to teach T as well. I want him to be as proud of his African heritage as well as his English heritage.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so happy to hear that you speak Lugandan!!! Definitely pass it on to T and start from now. Remember that babies and toddlers acquire languages around them at this stage. So definitely go for it.


  2. Dear Latifah,
    A big thumbsup on this write-up. As a Nigerian and a mother of four girls ( To God almighty be all glory ) I totally share your viewpoint. I believe it is only by passing down this mother’s tongue or culture that a child can fully align and be proud of themselves. As a mother, I spoke Yoruba to my children every single day but they respond back in English. Over time, I began to yern that they speak my language so I started paying them as an incentive but it still didn’t happen. Recently however, we started a weekly Yoruba lesson where all we focuse on is speaking words and forming sentences. I am yet to see the proceed but am proud I got this started. Looking forward to more ideas on ways to get them to speak my language. Cheers😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Egbon mi, auntie mi, e seun pupo. I think it’s a huge disappointment that such a rich language and culture is slowly starting to fade. I’m yet to come across an Indian or Chinese child born abroad who doesn’t speak their language or have an appreciation for their culture. It’s almost unheard of and fairly rare. Keep striving please. There are lots of online resources…i.e. YouTube and various books that can help. Keep speaking Yoruba at home and reiterate that it’s rude to reply back in English, which is actually the truth. If I was having a conversation with an English woman, I wouldn’t reply back in Yoruba!!! Lol.


    2. A friend whose mother spoke yoruba to them, and they responded in english, once told me (she was in her 20s), I wish my mother had forced me to respond back in yoruba. She learned out to speak yoruba in her 20s. I don’t think you will see the proceeds for a long time. Kids don’t appreciate what they have until they are grown. Keep doing what you are doing. I know it is very hard and discouraging.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. To answer your question, “yes” colonialism has taken our language and culture. I remember growing up in Nigeria where you were constantly told to stop speaking in ‘vernacular” anytime any native language was spoken. I remember in high school how the kids that spoke yoruba (or pretty much any other language) in school were regarded as local (classless). I think the shame with our language also has to do with not wanting to attract negative attention to ourselves.

    My kids do not speak in yoruba or understand much of it, I am trying to change it (taking baby steps). My biggest issues have been lack of yoruba speaking people around them and the fact that my thoughts are in yoruba. However, my first born has a yoruba name and he is not allowed to shorten it or go by nicknames (even though we call him by his short form at home). I once emailed his teacher to stop him from using the nickname my son gave him. I believe it is only going to get tougher as he gets older. He has been taught that if people respect you, they will take the extra 10 second required to learn your name.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for writing this wonderful post. The colonialist that came to the continent figured it out very early that once you take peoples language away you’ve taken their identity. I believe speaking English while growing up has a negative effect that only manifest when we get older, and when we are able to inner-stand what is actually going on. Unfortunately, some parents are yet to figure this out, and it is heart breaking that while families overseas (Europe or America) are having to try extra hard to teach their children their native language, some children at this moment in time in Nigeria or other African countries cannot even speak their native language. I’ve started speaking Yoruba to my kids especially in the morning when they wake up and they are responding well. My plan is to get Yoruba books and school lesson plans from Nigeria (my mum is a teacher) so that I can start teaching them how to read and write it. It is a matter of high importance and urgency now. It will be hard but I am determined to do it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re spot on!

      Within the Yoruba culture, the relationship between language and culture runs deep. The Yoruba language stands for the whole culture. For instance, by taking away the Yoruba language, that would mean taking away the greetings, curses, praises, literature, songs, riddles, proverbs, curses, wisdom and prayers. These things simply cannot be passed on in any other way. These things are essentially the way of life, the way of thought and the way of value.

      Definitely try to pass on the language as best as you can to your children. If you come across any resources from Nigeria do share. My aunt’s are also teachers back there so they frequently bring bundles of Yourba books back when they visit, even though my daughter is only 13 months old, they’re never too young to learn.


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