Understanding Lagos’ Chinese Language Initiative


By Olalekan Olagunju

Language is the principal means used by human beings to communicate with one another. It is mainly spoken, even though it can be transferred to other media, such as writing. Language can be used to discuss a wide range of topics or subjects, an attribute that distinguishes it from other means of communication.

Communication is the process of sharing ideas, information, and messages with others in a particular time and place. Communication includes writing and talking, as well as nonverbal communication (such as facial expressions, body language, or gestures), visual communication (use of images, sign languages, pictures, such as graphic, painting, photography, video/film), and electronic communication (telephone calls, electronic mail, cable television, or satellite broadcasts). Communication is an important part of personal life and also vital in business, education, governance and other situations where people interact with each other.

Language serves as a strong means of communication in every society and as a vehicle of reaching every strata of the community, either at the grassroots or elitist. The recent adoption of Yoruba Language by the Lagos State House of Assembly, as a means of communication, on Thursdays is highly commendable as a signpost to the relevance of mother tongue in every society, regardless of adoption of foreign languages as bilingual, multilingual or lingua-franca.

It is from the foregoing that one would like to situate on-going efforts to teach Chinese language in some schools in Lagos state. Currently, about thirty primary and secondary schools (public and private) are learning Chinese Language in Lagos State. Confucius Institute also engages in cultural and other educational activities that are relevant to the study of Chinese Language and culture such as New Year celebrations, Chinese Bridge (proficiency), Festivals and Quiz competitions, etc.

The Confucius Institute (Beijing Institute of Technology, China) in Lagos State was established in 2009 in collaboration with the University of Lagos, UNILAG. The Chinese Language programme main objectives are; promotion of Chinese Language, art and culture; and avenue to expose Nigerian children early to Chinese customs and traditions toward mutual understanding at personal/local, national and international perspectives and better perception of Chinese ways of life.   

Teaching activities in the Confucius Institute at UNILAG include Chinese courses designed for primary and secondary schools in the state; while degree (Bachelor of Chinese) is offered in the Faculty of Art at the Department of Linguistics and Asian Studies. Some of the courses taught the students are Spoken Chinese (Oral communication and Daily Life Language), Systematic Pronunciation Writing, Listening/Phonetics, Reading Comprehensive, Chinese Character, Chinese Literature, Chinese Culture, Calligraphy, Chinese Movies, Chinese Economy, Songs and Dance, etc.

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Living in a global village, where the rate of cultural influence and adaptation has become quite astonishing, diverse languages have found their ways into several parts of the world. According to Dr Oladele Orimoogunje, an Associate Professor of African Studies at UNILAG, Yoruba is spoken outside Nigerian shores such as Cuba. There Yoruba language is called Lucumi derived from the word Olukumi (meaning my confidant, intimate friend or associate). In Brazil, Yoruba Language is called Nago which originated from the word Anago in Republic of Benin (Saro people in Sierra Leone) . In Trinidad and Tobago. Yoruba as a spoken language is known as Aku adapted from Yoruba people words predominant in their greetings, such as “E kaaro o; E kaa san o; E kaa ale o and Aku odun o, etc.   Researches have shown first language acquisition as a process by which children and adults learn a language or languages; is a major field of linguistic study. Young children have innate characteristics that influence them to learn language. Children have been naturally favoured to acquire whatever language is spoken around them, even if their parents speak a different language. In addition, second-language acquisition actually refers to learning a language after having acquired a first language. The term is frequently used to refer to the acquisition of a second language after a person has reached puberty (maturity); but children experience little difficulty in acquiring more than one language.

As Lagos State is strategically positioned as the commercial capital of Nigeria, Confucius Institute exists to satisfy Nigerians’ needs and interest to learn about China and their culture; create job opportunities in Chinese companies in Nigeria and abroad; visit China on business trips; study in China;  build Nigeria into stronger country through trade, commerce and industry and to promote knowledge transfer in technology, Information Technology (IT), electronics, agriculture, health, education etc.

As Mandarin (Chinese Language) is getting acceptance and popularity, learners have various reasons for learning owing to its benefits as one of the most important foreign languages at the moment. Currently, China is one of the world’s oldest and richest cultures for about 5000 years. It is also the most populous nation in the world with over one billion people. In addition to the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan, Mandarin is also spoken in places such as Chinese communities of Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Brunei, Singapore, Philippines etc. As at now, China is the second largest economy in the world and one of the largest trading partners of the United States.

To Lagos State and Nigeria’s advantage, Mandarin is gradually gaining acceptance in Nigerian universities; these include Ekiti State University; Afe Babalola University and Nnamdi Azikiwe University. The study/learning facilities at UNILAG comprise- Computers used for Chinese culture for Exhibition; Computers for Multimedia classrooms; Projection Instruments; Office computers; Television Sets, Acoustics and Karaoke Equipment, Quick Response Equipment; Chinese culture experience centre covering an area of 40sqm and Library containing about 3000 volumes.

As Nigeria’s education system encourages bilingualism and multilingualism, efforts should be made to sustain and inculcate mother tongue in our children, young adults and adults. It is interesting to know that 21% of American universities are offering Yoruba Language up to PhD level. Mandarin teachers in Nigeria are equally delighted to speak Yoruba language. It is simple development like this that would surely make the world a better and united place.

•Olagunju is of the Ministry of Information & Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja.

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