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Renowned author defends mother-tongue use in schools | PRESS REVIEW

8th February, 2019

Kenya’s literary giant Ngugi wa Thiong’o has described as criminal the tendency by schools and parents to beat up children who use mother tongue in schools.

The award-winning author and scholar said he was saddened by the tendency and hypocrisy of parents who are
proud when their children cannot not speak mother tongue, mistakenly taking this as a sign of modernity.

“We are normalising an absurdity by denying our children their natural languages. There is nothing wrong with children learning foreign languages, but they should have a strong foundation of the mother tongue,” he said.

Prof Ngugi recalled: “I once visited my friends in Nakuru where the host called their children to come and greet me. They told the children to greet me in English. I was surprised because I expected the children to be fluent in mother tongue.”

“There is a need to attach positive images to African languages. When you stop a child from learning a language because you think it is inferior, you are destroying their confidence,” Ngugi argued.

During a visit to The Standard newsroom yesterday, Ngugi, 81, who honed his writing as a journalist during his days as a student, observed that the colonial powers granted their subjects accents in exchange of their natural resources. But even as he chastised parents and schools for brutalising their children who used mother tongue, Ngugi admitted that he, too, had not been perfect in teaching his children his mother tongue – Gikuyu.

“When our son Thiong’o was born in the US, we were determined to teach him Gikuyu. An aunt was brought from Kenya to assist in teaching him. When it was time to start school, my wife Njeri, was shocked when
on taking him to school, she was told the boy was fluent in English.”