Teaching the English language effectively in Nigeria

It is a known fact that the English Language plays an absolutely crucial role in Nigeria. As Nigeria’s official language, it is a medium through which social, political and economic rapport is sustained among the speakers of over five hundred indigenous languages spoken in the country.

This importance has prompted many people to describe the language as the country’s lingua franca. The English language is not only a subject on the school curriculum, but also the medium of instruction in all other subjects except indigenous languages. A credit pass in it is also a requisite for admission to (not, ‘admission into’) higher institutions. Likewise, many organisations require competence in the language to offer employment to prospective employees.

Given its communicative, academic and professional significance, it is essential that, in all stages of learning, this language is adequately taught by the teachers. This is because, as a second language, proficiency in English among Nigerians is greatly tied to the quality of its teaching. The rest of this column will discuss the role of the teacher while teaching English language and provide some guides for such a teacher.

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Very significantly, teachers of English in Nigeria should possess linguistic knowledge and communicative competence. So much is entrusted to the teachers, as they are expected to teach the language for effective communication at all levels, for examination purposes and for effective interpersonal relationships. Linguistic knowledge is different from communicative competence. The former deals with the content knowledge of the subject, while the latter concerns the actual use of the language—linguists call it performance. Since it is unnatural for people to give what they do not possess, the English language teacher must embody the ability and competence, pedagogical knowledge, as well as the practical skills to handle the subject. A language teacher should not fall victim to the inconsistent and somewhat illogical rules of the language which result in errors for many a speaker. Some of such illogical rules of the English language, at the lexical level, birth erroneous pluralisation of nouns, such as luggages (instead of luggage), equipments (instead of equipment), arms and ammunitions (instead of arms and ammunition), together with the inappropriate use of participles with words such as a matured person (instead of a ‘mature person’), opportuned (instead of an ‘opportune moment’), and a secured environment (instead of a ‘secure environment’). Lack of content knowledge could also engender wrong syntactic patterns, such as the ones cited below:

It does not worth it (non-standard).

It is not worth it (standard).

I saw that your friend (non-standard).

I saw that friend of yours (standard).

He did not come, talk less of giving me money (non-standard).

He did not come, let alone give me money (standard).

She is a friend of Peter (non-standard).

She is a friend of Peter’s (standard).

I am not hearing you (non-standard).

I cannot hear you (standard).

At the phonological level, inasmuch as a second-language user cannot use the native speaker’s accent, teachers of the language should strive towards articulating the sounds in words correctly.

One does not have to be an American or a Briton, for instance, to correctly pronounce the following words, which are often mispronounced:

Pizza (pronounced as ‘pit-suh’)

Dwarf (enunciated as ‘dwof’)

Basic (articulated as ‘bay-sik’)

Alias (vocalised as ‘ay-li-uhs’)

Compilation (pronounced as ‘kom-pilay-shn’)

The standard forms of the lexical, syntactic and phonological misuses given above constitute the linguistic knowledge that the language teacher must have at his or her fingertips, in order to successfully execute the task of effective teaching. At the level of communicative competence, the language teacher should be a model for the learners. S/he should be someone the learners can emulate. A language teacher should not be careless with language. Still on competence, the onus is on the language teacher to let the learners understand the role of context in language use. For instance, while a sentence such as ‘It was I’ is more grammatically appropriate and preferable in writing, the teacher should inform the students that ‘It was me’ cannot be adjudged wrong in informal settings. While expressions such as abandon, surrender, overcome, tolerate and abolish might be preferred in formal language situations such as writing and speech-making, their respective phrasal verb forms, ‘give up’, ‘give in’, ‘get over’, ‘put up with’, and ‘do away with’ might be preferable in informal settings like conversations.

The remainder of this treatise will present important guides to teachers of English in a second-language situation like Nigeria. First, the English language teacher should not consider himself/herself as the custodian of knowledge. The students should be given the opportunity to discover new knowledge through appropriate exposures and quality research, such as encouraging them to listen to the news, read educative articles, books, newspapers and suchlike and even act out roles during classes. Furthermore, the language teacher should understand that s/he teaches skills, not mere knowledge. Therefore, the whole lesson should be geared towards improving the four communication skills, namely listening, speaking, reading, and writing. In essence, language teaching should involve practical activities. Lastly, the language teacher should help the students build their confidence. S/he must teach them that errors and mistakes are inevitable while deploying a second language, and they should, therefore, be untroubled about making mistakes and be open to corrections.

Language teaching in a second-language situation is a taxing undertaking. The suggestions put forward in this piece will, hopefully, make the task a less difficult one for teachers of English in Nigeria.