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We promote language, culture in Awka Window on America – Odimegwu



February 21 every year is marked as the International Day for Mother Language. Prof Ike Odimegwu, Director, Awka Window on America, spoke to UCHE KALU on the significance of the day to his establishment. He also dwells on the crucial roles teaching and learning of Igbo Language and mother tongues generally, play in civilization and development. Excerpts

TODAY is the International Day for Mother Language. What is the interest of Awka Window on America on the day and why the activities?

  American Spaces are the cultural arm of the American relationship with any country with whom they have diplomatic relationship. While the Embassies handle the political and diplomatic arm of the relationship, the American Spaces is created to handle the cultural arms to interface directly with the people as people and not as government or state.

   Everything that touches directly on how a people are a people is of interest to American Spaces and that is why they are basically resource centers, they are community centers, public libraries, public open spaces where people walk in without any need of introduction or registration. Just walk in, use the facilities, enjoy yourself and go.

 Everything that touches the cultural life or cultural identity of a people is of interest to American Spaces and they are encouraged to organize programmes around such periods.

What is going on out there, I expect to see more people, does it mean you don’t publicise your programmes?

  Okay, what you are seeing out there is not a one-off event and it’s not just about the International Mother Language Day. This event is organised around the celebration of the International Mother Language Day but this year, we also started what we called the ‘Weekly Community Cultural Educations’ which started on the 17th February, tied to the Valentine Day celebration of 14th February. It was tagged, ” Love in the African Square”. There were poetry renditions, music, dance and round table discussion also.

 Today, the International Mother Language, all that we’re doing is to show the essence, the input and value of language, particularly mother language or mother tongue but it’s a weeklong event. Recall the idea of establishing Awka Window by American Government is that every Friday, when you are done with office work, whether in the university or elsewhere, you drive into the African Square to first; unwind, secondly to return to the basics of African culture community life and a kind of recover your spirit out of the hassles of the day before going home.

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 So we just started that but generally we would have wanted it to be on a Friday but the Int’l Mother Language Day came up as a major event that should be captured. As something that is just starting, the publicity has not received much attention in the area of programme, planning and packaging.

Does American Government sponsor your programmes and events?

  No and yes. There are three levels of American Spaces; 1) The American Center which is usually situated within the American Embassy. This is the first class American Space, fully funded by the American Government. 2) The American Corner usually situated in institutions outside the embassy or consulate. This is partially funded. It’s supposed to be joint-funding with the institution housing it. It’s also captured in the US budget and subvention is provided for their activities. 3) For the Window on America, the American Government basically helps in establishing it but the institution housing it is supposed to handle the running of the programmes.

Another part of the yes is that even though the American Government statutory doesn’t fund programmes of the window, they can support minimal things such as going to school to talk to students or pupils about a particular area of knowledge or problem in the society.

Today’s event is about Mother Language, how do you think it can impact on teaching and learning?

  Language is basically the primary means of communication. Teaching is about conveying or transferring knowledge, so it’s a communication project. When you use the mother language, that is the tongue of a child in teaching the child, you have done a number of things. First, you have situated the child and his/her learning process in the cultural context. Secondly, you have situated the child in the social and communal contexts.

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  In the cultural context, there is a lot of the instinctive things you do to reflect your culture, so when you are talking with the child in the same language in which you communicate with adults in the environment, what you are doing is that you are drawing a line that is supported by every other communication taking place in that environment. If however, you were teaching the child in a language different from the surrounding and the environing language, what you have done is that you have made that teaching project fetch-out of water because it will at each time be unsupported by the other streams of communication taking place there. For instance; when the husband communicates with the wife or mother in Igbo but when he wants to talk or teach the child, he speaks English, what you did was that you have abstracted that teaching project from natural communication streams. You are not just not reinforcing the teaching, you are deflating the teaching.

 So when you say mother language, what it reflect is exactly what the subject ‘ mother ‘ means. The mother symbol in the mother language is that which environs the child. You were to organise what you want the child to learn in that language and when that is done, you have given the child multiple levels of learning reinforcement. 1. The learning psychology of the child is strengthen. 2. You have laid a linguistic foundation for the child. For instance; if you are an Igbo person, you teach or speak Igbo to your child, you don’t take conscious effort to do present tense and past tense, singular and plural, you speak it as a matter of currence. The child picks the message you convey, the child also  picks the grammar of the language unconsciously. The child is not just picking the grammar of the language, the child is picking the linguistic structure, the entire gamut of grammar of language as a universal communicative symbol.

 When the child in whose mind the structure of language has been embedded moves from this language to another language, it’s like fish swimming in water. The learning becomes so easy because it’s a natural transition. The natural transition is dislocated when a child is taught from the cradle in a second language different from the mother language. This is one of the causes of gross dislocation in grammatical proficiency among university students.

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What are the programmes run by the window?

  Basically in American Spaces, you have what is called the standard programmes. These standard of statutory programmes are already fixed and every American Spaces log unto it. For instance; every Wednesday, you have the Education USA . This offers participants educational opportunities in US.

 Another statutory programme is conversation with alumni; these are people who have benefited from US Government scholarships, cultural exchanges, training programmes. It’s expected that when they return after the programmes, they use the wealth of knowledge they garnered to enrich the society and from time to time, people have conversation with them.

 There is also the entrepreneurship and Speak with a Diplomat programmes.

   Beyond these statutory programmes, American Spaces are encouraged to develop programmes that impact positively to the society just like the one out there.

How does the entrepreneurship programme work? Does American Government support the trainees?

  American Government does not provide support for those being trained in the window unless there is a proposal. For instance, if we generate a proposal that we want to run a special entrepreneurship programme different from the regular programme to train people on a particular area and after training them, we would want to start them up with something. If the proposal is approved and fund made available, not just for the training but also for start-up. The regular monthly entrepreneurship programme does not receive funding, it’s knowledge acquisition.

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