Why the English Language Should Not Eclipse Uganda’s Local Languages

Has it ever occurred to you that the fact that we have different complexions and speak different languages is a testament to God’s love and appreciation of diversity? It is amazing that there are an estimated 6000 languages spoken around the world, but what’s alarming is that 40% of these languages face the threat of extinction unless everything is done to protect and preserve them.

For that matter, UNESCO should always be lauded and applauded for coming up with the International Mother Language Day which has been observed annually since 2000 to promote multilingualism and protect all mother languages worldwide.

One East African language?

Here in Uganda, it’s a shame that some schools still punish students who are caught speaking their mother tongues. This is because such schools insist on English language being the language of expression. What they forget is that although English is recognized as the official national language, it can never take the place of the mother tongue especially in a multi-ethnic nation where over forty (40) indigenous languages are spoken.

At a time like this when the trumpet of the East African Federation is sounding, it is better to ditch English and make Luganda and Swahili the national and East African official languages respectively since the two languages are popular and would push for the cause of the East Africa integration as well as give us regional identity.

Need for a national language policy

Otherwise a language policy needs to be passed by the national assembly whereby local languages become the medium of instruction as was the case back then, at least up to upper primary schools. For creative artists, the better language to write in and generally express themselves in is their mother tongue. That is why musicians like Paulo Kafeero, Elly Wamala and the Afrigo Band are legendary because of the mastery of their first language—Luganda in which they sung about things that their listeners could relate to.

According to UNESCO, “Languages are the most powerful instruments of preserving and developing our tangible and intangible heritage. All moves to promote the dissemination of mother tongues will serve not only to encourage linguistic diversity and multilingual education but also to develop fuller awareness of linguistic and cultural traditions throughout the world and to inspire solidarity based on understanding, tolerance and dialogue.”

Let us therefore continue to promote our mother tongues by writing in them, speaking them, and translating our popular books into local languages. Thus we need more African legal language translators, African Financial translations, African conference interpreters and translation services from Somalia to Ghana translation services to keep the dream of African languages alive.