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Several studies have been carried out by English language scholars on the dwindling performance of Nigerian students and graduates in their communicative and linguistic competence. The abysmally poor performance of Nigerian students in English has been proved empirically through data collected from examining bodies such as the West African Examination Council and from experience as teacher(s) of English. These studies have identified different factors responsible for the low level performance in English. For example, Alo, having considered the data of WAEC result in English from 1996 to 2001 which was really poor and examiners complain of hopelessly inadequate knowledge of English grammar by SSCE candidates, concludes that the commonest problems of Nigerian users of English are grammatical ones. He points out that if grammar plays a determining role in English Language performance of students, then it is imperative to give adequate attention to it. 1 Also, Alo while discussing the major problem which is faced in the English Language teaching and learning in the ESL context today, observes that there is a missing link between the knowledge that is acquired in the classroom and the ability of the learners and users to apply this knowledge. He supports the position that knowledge in the context of language cannot be restricted to mere familiarity with linguistic system but rather knowledge of a language requires taking socio-cultural factors into consideration. He therefore concludes that his consideration of knowledge and performance in a second language context must embrace the knowledge of (a) grammar and usage (b) socio-linguistics (c) discourse and (d) pragmatics.
Lanre-Atoyebi and Ogunsola posit that although, some of the problems of English are inherent in the English language itself, some are associated with the learners, while some are related to the teaching process and teachers. They also identify lack of enough exposure and time to English learning as part of the problems militating against teaching and learning of English. They therefore point out that if it takes a child four years to acquire his/her mother tongue, definitely, it will take more years for a linguistic adult in his in his/her mother tongue to learn English Language. The few hours spent learning the language are not enough to have a good mastery of the language because some of these learners do not have opportunity to interact naturally with the language.
Despite the various suggestions of the language scholars at addressing this problem, the situation keeps deteriorating. We can therefore conclude that the outcomes of the various researches are either jettisoned by the English teachers or that the teachers do not have access to such research outcomes. It may also be that the government is not looking in the direction of these research works for possible implementation as education policies. The very unimpressive performance of students and graduates of English should be a thing of great concern to English teachers and well-meaning Nigerians as there is obviously no other alternative to English language as our medium of instruction and other roles English plays in Nigeria today. The present study, a theoretical one, intends to suggest an approach that is result-oriented which when used/employed in the teaching of English in our schools will definitely improve the performance of the Nigerian students not only in their oral and written communication but would also enable our children to function effectively in any area they find themselves in the Nigerian society. From our experience as English teachers at the secondary and tertiary institution levels, we have observed that the expressive ability of our students keeps deteriorating at a very frightening rate. There is therefore the need to take the right steps deriving from the theoretical, descriptive and empirical studies to ameliorate the situation and this is highly crucial considering the very important roles that English plays in Nigeria.
It may not be necessary to dwell much on how English was implanted in Nigeria as there are several studies on the events that led to the spread of English already. Apart from the controversy about the exact time and date, the different accounts of these studies are agreed that English crept into Nigeria through the slave merchants, Christian missionaries and the British colonialists who colonized Nigeria and amalgamated the Northern and Southern protectorates. The implantation of English language in Nigeria is made possible owing to the multi-ethnic nature of the country. Udofot, identifies fear of domination, marginalization, emotional feeling of ethnic identity among other reasons as the bane against the suggestion for the adoption of any of the local languages as the nation’s lingua franca and medium of instruction in schools. Adegoke, also highlights pervading tribalism, nepotism and biased policies perpetuated by political leaders in position of power as the factors that have hindered the adoption of an indigenous language as a medium of instruction and national language.
More often than not, the proponents of the adoption of indigenous language(s) as our national language(s) and language of education are quick to refer to some developed nations such as China, Japan, Korea as good examples of nations that have developed without having to use English or foreign language as medium of instruction in their educational institutions.
However, the proponents of indigenous languages seem to lose sight of the fact that most of these developed nations were never colonized and the vast majority of their nationals speak common language unlike Nigeria, a former colony of the United Kingdom whose nationals do not speak common language. Bamgbose, estimates/puts Nigerian languages to be about four hundred languages. Adegbija on his own puts the number of Nigerian languages at over five hundred. 8As desirable as the adoption of indigenous language(s) may be, as our language of education, commerce, communication, economics, administration, technology and so on, it is apparent from the foregoing that this clamour shall remain a mirage considering the very complex nature of Nigeria. One can therefore safely say without any equivocation that English has come to stay permanently in Nigeria. But the pathetic state of English in Nigeria requires every stakeholder to rise and address this situation. A situation where most undergraduates and even graduates cannot express themselves in simple English, a situation where teachers cannot make any sense in the scripts students write as responses to theory questions calls for great concern. The scripts of those adjudged fair are filled with a lot of blunders ranging from imperfect expressions, errors of grammar, spelling errors, wrong punctuations and a lot of other common errors unexpected of university undergraduates and graduates.
English language is not native to Nigeria, it is bequeathed to Nigerians by the British colonizers. As a result, the variety of English spoken and written in Nigeria is termed Nigerian English. Alo describes Nigerian English as a domesticated variety of English, functioning within the Nigerian linguistic and socio-cultural setting as a second language (ESL). He adds that it manifests the linguistic (phonological, syntactic, semantic, pragmatic and socio-cultural characteristics of the Nigerian environment (social and physical). 9 Whether as a Standard British English or Standard Nigerian English, English has played very crucial roles in this nation. It has unified the numerous ethnic nationalities in the country. It is the language of education, government, business and used for international communication. It is expected that every Nigerian should be proficient in English for the person to be able to participate in his community and national affairs. In attempting to justify the lofty position English occupies in Nigeria. Adegoke has since asserted that English is a ‘garb’ which one must put on in Nigeria for one to earn social recognition. 10 Fluency in English enhances one’s upward mobility.
If one considers these all important roles English plays in Nigeria and the precarious situation English is now, one would see the urgent need for all stakeholders in education to rise to salvage English from the downward slide the language has found itself for many years now. Without having to dichotomize the Standard British English and the Standard Nigerian English, we have observed that the communicative and linguistic performance of Nigerian students at the secondary and tertiary levels falls short of what can be regarded as a standard variety if any of the two varieties is used as a yardstick for assessing them. We must note too that the standard Nigerian English is not inferior to the standard British English. Rather, it is so called because of phonological, semantic, socio-cultural, etc. influences. Udofot has since remarked that the Nigerian English is the brand being taught and used in secondary and tertiary institutions in Nigeria.
The indigenous languages are very crucial for the language development of the Nigerian child. It is definitely in recognition of this that the Nigerian language policy requires that the Nigerian child must receive education in the mother tongue in the first three years of pre-primary education. The Federal Government of Nigeria policy on the medium of instruction at the pre-primary and the first three years in the primary school is spelt out in the National Policy on Education (NPE, 2004). The provisions of the NPE state as follows:
(a) At the pre-primary level
Government shall ensure that the medium of instruction in pre-primary education is principally the mother-tongue or the language of the immediate community and to this end will develop the orthography of many more Nigerian languages and produce textbooks in Nigerian languages.
(b) At the primary school level
Government will see to it that the medium of instruction in the primary school is initially the mother-tongue or language of the immediate community for the first three years, during this period English shall be taught as a subject. 12The advantage of using the mother tongue at these levels of education has been empirically demonstrated as seen in the six-year Yoruba Medium Project (Fafunwa et al 1975). The project showed that the full six-year primary education in the mother tongue with English taught as a subject was not only viable but gave better results than all-English schooling. Fafunwa further reiterates his opinion on mother tongue based education when he says that “if the Nigerian child is to develop curiosity initiatives, industry, manipulative dexterity, mechanical comprehension and coordination of hand and eye, he should acquire these skills through the mother tongue”.
Also Muslimi asserts that the use of the mother-tongue has been found to be of immense help in promoting childhood literacy and functional education. Unfortunately, his research findings reveal that the medium of instruction using the M. T. or language of the environment is not implemented by 77%. Lawal, in her contribution also stresses that the M. T. policy cannot be faulted. She is of the view that the M. T. is an asset which the children bring with them to school and which can help them to acquire literacy. When children learn to read in the mother tongue, reading in a second language situation as in English will be facilitated. She concludes that as parents ignorantly insulate their children from the mother tongue to induce facility in the use of English language, the children are deprived of a basic source of education and imaginative development and consequently, the children are neither competent in basic grammar of English to be able to read and write well nor competent in the mother tongue to demonstrate basic literacy.
These inadequacies are transferred to secondary schools and tertiary institutions. The Federal Government policy on the use of the mother-tongue at the foundation level up the junior primary school level is definitely well thought out. However, the elites or educated Nigerian parents, semi-literates Nigerians who speak English to their children as a first language, private nursery and primary school owners who ignore the language policy and the public primary schools teachers who resort to bilingual medium as a pedagogical option all constitute a cog in the language development of the Nigerian child. Their action over the years is a clear violation of the language policy on education. The language policy must therefore be enforced in all the public primary and the private nursery and primary schools.
English is learnt in Nigeria mainly as a second language. This is unlike the host environment where it is used all of the time at home, in the school, in the market, on radio, television, on the net, in public places, etc. It is however used for only a limited period of time in a non-host environment such as Nigeria. The native speakers of English ‘think it’, ‘sleep it’ and ‘dream it’ as it is their first language or mother tongue which they naturally acquire. To be able to use English at an appreciable level in an ESL environment, it goes beyond learning the rules of grammar of the language in a classroom environment; rather it entails creating an environment similar to what obtains in the host community. The “near host environment” can be achieved by engaging in extensive reading. Extensive reading as the name connotes is a kind of reading activity that covers wide range of areas/topics. A reader who engages in extensive reading reads works of various fields of human endeavour. Osisanwo defines extensive reading as wide and varied reading which can take the form of extra-curricular, co-curricular, recreational or leisure reading in formal and non-formal situations. Extensive reading builds vocabulary. When learners read a lot, they meet thousands of words and lexical (word) patterns that are not taught in textbooks. It allows the learners to develop an awareness of collocations (common word partnerships) and thousands of lexical phrases. Adegbite lends his voice to the importance of extensive reading when he asserts that for a learner of foreign language to develop his use of language to a level where he will be able to use such language to perform tasks in communicative settings, the learner has to be exposed to more than intensive reading.
On the contrary, the Nigerian students and graduates do not engage in extensive reading despite the fact that their English language learning foundation has not been put on a good footing in the mother-tongue. Expectedly therefore, such students and graduates cannot have or possess the words and expressions with which they can convey their thoughts. English teachers at all levels of our education must ensure that the pupils/students read widely. The texts recommended to the students must be well graded. In other words, the reading materials must be within the students’ grammatical and vocabulary competence. From the upper primary school level, teachers should create a space within the class as a library where reading materials kept for the pupils to borrow and after reading come to explain to their teacher what the pupils have gathered from the reading materials. The teacher is expected to have read the reading material(s) ahead of the pupils.
The pupils’ interest in reading can be cultivated from the upper primary school level in this manner and it is most likely this will continue at the secondary and tertiary institution levels. Experiences have shown that ESL learners who engage in extensive reading eventually attain appreciable level of competence in English language. Through reading extensively, they encounter a lot of vocabulary and expressions, learn their meaning, and internalise them and
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