I was compelled by my Parents to study French, and did so for 11 years, I struggled with it. But now I honestly wish I had actually learnt my parents’ mother tongues in that same period.

Yesterday I saw a post on Facebook from the Sierra Leonean BBC reporter Umaru Fofana.

This was it :

In Dakar today I pretended I couldn’t speak French. I went to a mobile phone office to get another sim card. At least three people there spoke to me in very good English. At my Radisson Blu hotel virtually every receptionist speaks English. I went to a restaurant the lady in charge engaged me in English for five minutes and she was willing to go on. And they are all Senegalese who’ve never lived abroad. On the other hand the study of French is dying in Sierra Leone – even English is a “wahala”. Our education needs a root-and-branch solution. Period!!!

This post got me thinking!

Most recently I had a conversation with a couple of friends during dinner; these are people who are always amazed at me and a Sierra Leonean brother, whenever we speak Krio. It is common for me to hear these people say “I can hear english words, but I don’t get the language still”; and I am always like “Yup, Krio is unique; you go yeri english, but ar go congosa you”.

I digress… With regards to Umaru Fofana’s post, I feel Sierra Leone should be more concerned about the “dying” of our Sierra Leonean languages (SLL).

In Sierra Leone, there is a growing number of people my age who cannot speak their Parents’ mother tongue (including me). And even the Krio we claim to speak so well has become diluted. I was lucky enough to attend a school that gave you an option to study ‘Krio, Temne, Limba, or Mende’ in Junior Secondary School. Therefore, I can boast of knowing how to count and read in Mende (not speak, or write). Some Sierra Leonean schools only allow you to do Krio. Many schools (including Private schools) don’t offer  SLL to students at all. On so many occasions people have asked me if we speak French in Sierra Leone; I tell them no, but it is “sort of” compulsory to do it at some point in school. They are always curious to know why this is so, I have not found a very convincing answer for them yet.

Growing up I was compelled by my Parents to study French, and did so for 11 years, and I struggled with it. But now, I honestly wish I had actually learnt my parents’ mother tongues instead during that same period. I think it is still not late for me to learn though LOL.  I do agree that learning a foreign language like French is beneficial and comes in handy; but preserving culture is even more so. If we are not careful, our 18 Sierra Leonean languages will all become extinct, except for Krio obviously, and Fula (i’ll tell you why later). Other African countries are now giving priority to the use of their indigenous languages, we should follow their step. In countries like Kenya and Tanzania for example, ‘Swahili’ is as prioritized as a foreign language.

It’s a bit worrying to see little ones nowadays (especially in Freetown) being raised up “anglicized”. Sierra Leonean middle class and upper class kids born today are only spoken to in English at all times (not even Krio). Apparently the aim is for them to appear “more intelligent”. Speaking fluent English or French, is a plus if you want to go International, but why should you be proud of knowing another’s and not your forefathers’ tongue? Many of our Sierra Leonean parents see it as “uncivilized” (for lack of a better word) to speak to their children in their own mother tongue. I really don’t understand why our Parents are unbothered that we do not speak their indigenous language. We should begin to be keen on preserving our mother tongues.

Sierra Leoneans should take a good example from the Fulas and Lebanese that live amongst us – they speak good English (primarily from being taught at school); they speak Krio (as it is the widely spoken language), and Arabic/Fula (from conversations with family at home). This way Fula as an indigenous language will continue to thrive. This example should tell you that you can successfully raise your child with her speaking English, Krio, and Koranko, at the same time. If you are afraid that your child learning your mother tongue will hinder their performance in school, take these facts into consideration. It has been proven that students who are multilingual tend to perform better in school. Fluency in English does not determine your child’s level of intelligence, it may make him look “posh” if that’s your goal.

Don’t “anglicize” your child. Colonialism is over (ermm on paper), and we should stop seeking European assimilation. It is important for us to save our Sierra Leonean languages; English is borrowed, French is borrowed. But Limba is ours, Kissi is ours, Yalunka is ours, Madingo is ours. Even the Creole people are not free from this, because they have allowed such a unique language like theirs to be watered down. I am very grateful to the neighbors I had growing up, ‘The Palmers’, who always corrected me when I spoke improper Krio. They were always on my case “Bassie noto bell you dae ring, nor say baing baing”, “Nor say – me bak, say – me sef”. These corrections here and there shaped my Krio. With the way I spoke Krio, I could have passed for a Creole. LOL

But really, the point is “let us be proud to own ours”. Yesterday February 21st was ‘International Mother Language Day’, and by coincidence Mr Fofana’s post came up on my Facebook timeline. Friends can you take up a challenge to learn a few phrases from your Parents’ mother tongue this week?

Big ups to the Fulas! And to those friends of mine who speak Sierra Leonean Languages other than Krio, big up! Teeleema Smart and Abubakarr Siddiq Bah much respect!

Remember, we are Sierra Leoneans first before any ethnic identification. However, we are rich in our diversity. Let’s preserve our mother languages!


3 thoughts on “A SLIPPERY SLOPE!

  1. Bassie, I perfectly agree to your proposition and it’s a good one, but I have just one issue with your article. The paragraph that starts with “Sierra Leoneans should take a good example from the fulas and the Lebanese” it’s somehow odd to read it in that line as a Fullah and I consider myself to be a Sierra Leonean. You know, sometimes you say something and the audience understands it differently.


    1. Thanks for reading Mr Bah. Of course I am not trying to portray Fullahs as foreigners just because I put them with the Lebanese in one sentence; people may misunderstand it, but that’s not what i’m portraying. Hopefully the broader picture is understood. Peace.


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