It is likely for one to find a nine-year-old that knows the Cinderella story than a 16-year-old who knows the Napolo or Kaphirintiya myth. And their parents proudly boast to their friends: “Ameneyotu amatha chizungu basi ndiye ngati mukufuna mucheze muyankhuleni muchizungu.” [he only speaks English so if you want a conversation with him address him in English].
Youngsters like these speak, read and even dream in English, which is why they find comfort in Cinderella than in Mbona’s story.
In some schools, speaking of vernacular languages is restricted and attracts punishment.
Writer Ngugi wa Thion’go, in his book Decolonizing the Mind: Politics of a Language, condemns this behaviour, arguing that it instills a feeling of inferiority to local language users by placing foreign languages as superior.
The formal language for education in Malawian schools is English. What is the implication of teaching in schools in a foreign language? Ngugi describes language as the carrier of a culture. Sapir-Whorf argues that different thoughts are brought about by the use of different forms of language. One is limited by the language used to express one’s ideas.
Aubrey Neil Leveridge writes that learning a new language involves the learning of a new culture. Consequently, teachers of a language are also teachers of culture.
For example, there is no word for snow in Chichewa because there is no snow in Malawi as there are a number of types of baskets in Chichewa such as dengu, mtanga, nsengwa which are all baskets in English. That is one limitation language has in expressing cultural perception.
Broadcaster and cultural custodian, Dyson Gonthi tells Chill that it is high time Malawi starts to use vernacular languages in schools as it is the case in other countries such as France, German and China.
“Our friends in East Africa countries use Kiswahili why can we not use our local languages?” questioned Gonthi.
He also added that during colonial times the European settlers used Chichewa as the lingua franca so there can be no any problem for us to use it in modern times.
“If one wants to start practicing medicine law or study any other profession they have to learn our languages first, I is also the case in China we can’t go wrong.
Gonthi said language is an important aspect of culture he said that in using foreign languages, Malawians end up taking along with their culture.
Professor in African Languages and Linguistics at Chancellor College, Pascal Kishindo says Malawi will never be independent unless the country starts using her languages for teaching.
“If we use native foreign language speakers as reference, the standards that we aspire to achieve will always be foreign, and we will always fall short of these standards. For example, MBC English is poor while BBC English excellent,” said Kishindo.
The language professor is quick to suggest that Malawian languages can be used for learning in schools if the government takes the issue seriously and directs resources to developing Malawian languages.
“What is needed is simply making resources available for the development of reference materials such as orthographies [spelling rules], dictionaries, grammars, literary work, and so forth,” said Kishindo.
He says at the moment, the Centre for Language Studies of the University of Malawi is already developing orthographies, dictionaries, grammars, literary work for African languages.
He is, however, quick to bemoan underdevelopment of most Malawian languages, arguing that most of them do not have orthographies, no reference materials, such as dictionaries, grammars and literary materials.
Kishindo argues that Malawian languages are not inferior to foreign languages but they are not used for teaching in schools because there is not political will to make decisions to develop Malawian languages
“It suits them to use foreign languages, because they give them power to manipulate a large population of the citizens who do not know the foreign language,” says Kishindo.