‘Not much is being done to promote Nigerian languages’
Gbemisola Isimi is on a mission to preserving the Yoruba culture and she is employing YouTube to go about it. This mother of two girls- three years and six months old- recently launched a YouTube channel for children called The CultureTreeTV.
According to Isimi: “The channel aims to preserve and teach children the Yoruba language. On this channel you will find stunning and colourful animated videos of popular English nursery rhymes that have been translated to Yoruba, evergreen Nigerian nursery rhymes, stories, lullabies and other educational materials that are easy to sing along with and memorise.”
Speaking to The Guardian on how she came up with the idea, she said, “I’ve been speaking Yoruba to my daughter who is now three since she was born, but the idea for CultureTreeTV YouTube channel came about after noticing one day that she was watching Hindi nursery rhyme videos on YouTube and loved it. I searched online for Yoruba or specifically Nigerian ones but couldn’t find any. This was when I started translating the songs she loved into Yoruba and teaching them to her. A lot of my friends here in London also started asking me to teach their kids songs in Yoruba so I thought “why not make this available to everyone on YouTube”. That was how CultureTreeTV got started.”
Isimi regretfully laments that not much is being done to promote Nigerian languages within Nigeria and certainly not outside Nigeria. Citing the United Kingdom as an example, Isimi points out that a plethora of language classes abound that teach French, Spanish and Mandarin but there is a dearth of such regarding Nigerian languages.
“I read an article on the internet recently that there are over one million Nigerians living in London alone. There’s also a running joke that there’s no place on earth that you won’t find a Nigerian. Our language and culture is our identity and we should be stamping our mark in these countries and ensuring that we leave a lasting legacy for our children. This is perhaps something that the Nigerian High Commission should seriously look into.”
She adds: The Nigerian government should be doing more to ensure that there are enough outlets and resources for all Nigerians, and in fact, anyone living in the diaspora to learn our languages and culture.”
She notes that most parents these days place no value on our local languages, speaking to children only in English. Isimi believes the media and government have a huge role to play and should do more in ensuring the culture of teaching and speaking local languages don’t die off so as to preserve it for generations unborn.
Isimi praised the music industry, pointing out that artistes these days have begun to sing and rap in our local languages, which in turn promotes language and culture as music transcends all cultures and races. “I also have to give kudos to Nollywood and especially the Yoruba film industry for continuing to make us popular all around the world. My Saturday is not complete without watching a Yoruba movie,” she said.
Isimi says she faced no major challenge in birthing her idea to life but as she is a prayerful and resourceful woman, she is ready for any challenges that may arise. Describing the reaction to the channel as “fantastic”, Isimi says people’s feedbacks humbles and amazes her as well as pushes her to do better.
“I’ve been getting comments and emails from parents who love the channel and say they’ve been looking for something like this to help them teach their children Yoruba. I’ve even been sent videos from parents whose children are having fun learning the songs. The process for implementing this idea hasn’t been straightforward and I have spent a lot of money, time and effort to bring it to life but what is worth doing at all is worth doing well.”
“The videos are not just a collection of popular nursery rhymes, but they have also been carefully selected for their ability to teach specific words and actions. For example, in the ‘Bayi l’a nse’ video (this is the way), children are singing about brushing their teeth, washing their face and combing their hair in Yoruba. They are learning new words and actions in a fun way and it is not forced or boring for them,” she said.
On encouraging parents to foster love for local languages and practices, Isimi says the major way is to expose them as much as possible from the onset. “If you’re not fluent in the language yourself, ask your parents or family members who are fluent in the language to speak to your children only in your language. Let them watch movies and listen to songs in your language. I’ve also taught my daughter the games I used to play as a child in Nigeria like Ten-Ten, Tinko Tinko, Boju Boju etc. She loves these games and not only does it create a bond between us, it also helps her bond with her Nigerian identity because she knows these games are not ones she plays at her Nursery school but only at home with her family. Come to think of it, do children in Nigeria still play ten-ten anymore?”
Some might say a good way to teach children your local language is by teaching them how to greet, show gratitude or insisting that they make requests only in your language but while this could be helpful, it doesn’t really foster a genuine love for the language. There are so many things vying for our children’s attention such as the Internet, television, gaming and many others. These things can be effective tools for learning and that is exactly what CultureTreeTV aims to do, teach children Yoruba while having fun!
On if Nigerian languages can compete favourably with other international languages, she agreed it is possible as no language is superior to another.
“There are many influential Nigerians all around the world. If we start promoting our language and culture in the media and internationally people will have no choice but to give it the respect it is due. For example, in press conferences and speeches it is very rare to see the Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel speaking in English, it’s always in German. This is the same with several other prominent French, Japanese and Chinese leaders and businessmen/women. They can speak English but choose to speak in their own languages and make no apologies for it. Yes, we have a lot of languages and dialects in Nigeria and English is our lingua franca but we should also strive to promote our own indigenous languages and culture locally and in international arenas. I look forward to the day when I’ll see Yoruba or any other Nigerian language being spoken on national television here in the UK.”
Isimi says she is excited about future possibilities with her TV channel. “We were in the studio all day yesterday recording some new songs and are so excited about these ones. People want to teach their kids the evergreen songs they sang along to as children themselves and we’ll soon be delivering just that. We are also working on an animated series of stories and folktales. My aim is to preserve and teach children Yoruba and there are so many fun ways of teaching children. The possibilities are endless. I don’t want to give too much away just yet but I definitely have big plans,” she concludes.
Subscribe to the YouTube channel: CultureTreeTv to enjoy the videos. Gbemisola Isimi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org,