Limba, Loko, Themne, Mende, Sherbro | Spotlight Your Mother Language

"Let us all join forces to promote linguistic diversity and multilingualism as a key element in our efforts to build a better world and a life of dignity for all." --Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (Message for International Mother Language Day 2014)

Sorie Ibrahim Kanu, managing director, Let's Learn Our Languages 

Today is International Mother Language Day. International Mother Language Day has been observed every year since February 2000 to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism. The date represents the day in 1952 when students demonstrating for recognition of their language, Bangla, as one of the two national languages of the then Pakistan, were shot and killed by police in Dhaka, the capital of what is now Bangladesh.

Today, the BBC reports that a debate is raging in Kenya over the use of mother languages in the east African nation's schools. A new government policy requires children under eight years of age be instructed in their mother language as part of the curriculum, in a bid to  increase classroom participation and performance in exams.

Meanwhile, in the Sierra Leonean cultural landscape, one man  has started a quiet revolution to promote the dissemination of mother languages.

A native Themne speaker, Sorie Ibrahim Kanu believes using our mother languages more often will serve not only to encourage linguistic diversity and multilingual education but also to develop awareness of linguistic and cultural traditions and inspire solidarity based on understanding, tolerance and dialogue. Kanu manages a Facebook group called "Lets Learn Our Languages," launched in 2013 to teach the basics of  Sierra Leonean ethnic languages.

Born in a small village, Konta Wala, in Lokomasama Chiefdom, Port Loko District, Kanu attended primary school in Konta Wala before heading to Freetown, Sierra Leone's capital,  for his secondary school education at the Muslim Brotherhood on Berry Street.

"After secondary school, I was awarded a scholarship in 1982 to study the Arabic language in Khartoum, Sudan," Kanu explains. "Mastering Arabic in three years, I proceeded to study English Language and Literature at Ain't Shams University in Cairo, Egypt, in 1986. I currently live and work in Saudi Arabia. I am married with three lovely children, two girls and a boy."

Sewa News: Why did you create  the "Let's Learn Our Languages" group?

Sorie Ibrahim Kanu: The whole idea came about after a period of watching SLBC TV (Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation Television). I observed that our indigenous languages are not broadcast at all compared to Senegal, The Gambia, Nigeria, Ghana etc. Programs (on SLBC TV) are aired only in Krio and English.

Looking at the overwhelming number of our people who can't even speak or understand Krio and English, I realized that something wrong is being developed in our country-gross neglect of our ethnic languages in place of broken English. To me, it is cultural suicide!

Since then, I decided to attract public attention through Facebook, which is the fastest way of decimating news in the world today. I started posting basic expressions/sentences in our languages [and] received massive commendation.

Sewa News: Why is it important to use our mother languages?

Kanu: To learn our languages is  vital. Failing to do so will not only destroy our values but plunge our coming generations into a gaping cultural vacuum. How on earth can I be encouraged to sing and dance in English or Krio but not in Temne, Mende, Loko. Limba, Kono, Mandingo, Fula, etc.?

Because this an unacceptable phenomenon, I decided to come up with this page, inviting participants to send useful information on how to communicate basic things in our languages.

Sewa News: What else are you doing to raise awareness and get more people involved?

Kanu: Being in the diaspora I believe the Internet could help in playing a crucial role in the spreading of our message to love, respect and to learn some of the basics in a few languages in our country. There are plans for those at home as well.

To like Let's Learn Our Languages on Facebook click here 


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