Getting Kids to Speak Africa’s Languages, One Doll at a Time

Once every couple of months, Cartoon Queen Carol Hills and I pick five language stories to chat about. They’re all news stories of some sort, but none has made much of a splash. These are stories we chose this time:

The Future of Yoruba

Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka is worried that young Nigerians aren’t speaking Yoruba. The language is the native tongue of between 20-30 million people—mainly Nigerians, but also some Beninese and Togolese.

Girl with Rooti dolls. (Photo: Rooti Dolls)

(Photo: Rooti Dolls)

Many of Nigeria’s best-known cultural exports—Soyinka, Fela Kuti, King Sunny Ade—were brought up as Yoruba speakers. Now there are calls to switch the language of instruction in schools and colleges from English to Yoruba. The idea is to head off a catastrophic crash before it’s too late.

A small part of the effort to keep Yoruba alive among young people is Rooti Dolls. It’s the brainchild of London-based Nigerian entrepreneur Chris Chidi Ngoforo. Big Show host Marco and I talked about Rooti Dolls and Yoruba in the broadcast:

Rooti Dolls are like regular speaking dolls, except that they each speak four or five languages. There are twelve in the series, covering close to 50 languages. They all also speak English, which they use to teach a few words in their African languages. The idea is to expose these languages to children who may be living far from their ancestral homelands. Ngoforo himself is raising three young daughters in exactly that situation (the family’s ancestral language isn’t Yoruba, but another Nigerian language, Igbo).

Also discussed in the podcast:



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1 Comment

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One response to “Getting Kids to Speak Africa’s Languages, One Doll at a Time

  1. Ian Holder

    Another wonderfully enjoyable and informative episode with you and Carol.

    On the topic of directness in translation, I was taken aback to see the following English text prominently displayed on a billboard for KFC when I was in Beirut in 2011: “Slaughtered according to halal principles” — I doubt that ‘slaughtered’, despite its accuracy, would make it into advertising here in Australia or in other western countries.

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