This study discusses the Yorùbá language attitude and proficiency of a group of Secondary School students in Nigeria.  The aim is to highlight the influence of sociolinguistic, socio-psychological, instructive-cognitive factors and socio- educational policies on the Yorùbá language attitude. It goes beyond this to investigate the Yorùbá language proficiency as compared to French language, employing Dornyei’s (1994) tripartite motivational components as framework for the research.

This case study revealed that the home, language background, school and educational policies might have a strong influence on the students’ language attitude and that the students have negative attitudes towards the Yorùbá language subject.  The finding underlies the motive for the students’ use of the Yorùbá language as being more integrative than instrumental and reveals that the students’ attitudes might have some degree of influence on their proficiency in the Yorùbá language.

The results obtained from analysis, encourage further research on language attitudes in Nigeria. It also highlights the recommendation of the concept of the CLIL (Coyle, 2005), in teaching and learning the Yorùbá language. The study hopes to contribute to language attitude study literature, in Nigeria, encouraging more language attitude research, with the hope of reviewing policies and restructuring the curriculum.







1.1 Study Background

The use of language is multifunctional in postmodern societies. Economic circumstances require that citizens acquire the major “global” languages, which brings into question the use and management of indigenous languages. Within the African context, indigenous language acquisition is seen as central to sustained sociocultural development.  It may be the reason for the immense support received from The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), regarding the promotion of African languages at all levels of education (Hermenegilde, 2011).


Two approaches conceptualise the term language on the basis of function. The first is

“language in education”, describing language as a medium of instruction (MOI) (UNESCO 2003:16). Countries like India, Hong Kong, South Africa and Wales, where there is a “significant linguistic imposition of the tongue of the “dominant “on the “other”, utilise indigenous languages as MOI” (Williams 2009: 65). A second approach is when language is conceptualised as language education, as a subject (Baker, 2011) an example being The English language taught at all Nigerian Schools. In any context where inference is made to at least two languages, conceptualised as language education, reference can be made to the language of first acquisition as L1 and second language as L2 (UNESCO, 2003).

The pretext to this study lies in the colonial history of Nigeria (Appendix A); a multilingual Country of 515 languages, 8 of which are extinct, 505 living indigenous, and two that are second languages (Grimes, 2000 in Ugot and Offiong, 2012: 2491).

There are three main Nigerian languages; Yorùbá, Hausa and Igbo, and there is a general assumption that the average Nigerian understands at least one. This linguistic diversity has created an avenue for the English language as the accepted MOI in Education (Fafunwa, 1990). In other words, English acts as a unifying language, anchored by the socio-economic needs of the country and the realities of globalisation

(Taiwo, 1980:11; Adedun & Shodipe, 2011:124).


Unfortunately, the domination of English Language led to the steady attrition of indigenous languages. As a result, the Udoji white paper report (1974) suggested that one of the three major indigenous languages should be taught in the academic domain, to enhance proficiency and therefore, National development (Olaopa 2013). This policy seemingly contradicts a presumed aim of colonial education, being, the imposition of the colonial language in administration, education and media, as explained by some African Linguists (Taiwo , 1980; Adedun & Shodipe,2011).

Nonetheless, it is noteworthy that there are multilingual countries like Canada, Wales,

Japan, China, Switzerland, Russia and Italy that inculcate indigenous languages as “tools for transformation”, to enhance the development of the Nation as a whole

(Daura 2014:11).


In this context, there is an emphasis on the effect of Educational Policies (Adedun & Shodipe, 2011:124). The Nigerian Educational System has a history that dates back to the colonial era when Christian missionaries established Educational Institutions starting around 1843. An official document first published in 1977 (revised in 1981, 1998 and 2004), titled the National Policy on Education (NPE), defines the status of national language in education policy, thus:

  1. At the pre-primary school stage, the MOI shall be the mother tongue or the language of the immediate environment.
  2. At the primary school level, the MOI shall be the language of the immediate environment for the first three years while English shall remain a school subject.
  3. From the fourth year, English shall progressively be used, as MOI, while the language of the immediate environment and the French language, become language subjects.
  4. At the secondary school level, English shall also be the language of instruction and language of the environment, one major Nigerian language other than that of the environment (Hausa, Igbo or Yorùbá) and French shall be taught as school subjects. (Olagbaju 2014:66).

Allport’s (1935) definition of attitude supports the concept of introducing the indigenous languages in the early years as a basis for encouraging positive language attitudes. He defines attitude as being influenced by past experiences (In Nadeem, 2013:63). It implies that if the students have positive language experiences in the early years, their language attitude at the secondary level will be positive also.


From this summary, the NPE explicitly highlights the importance of English as MOI

(NPE, 2004).  The reason might be the imposition of exclusive policies on Education (Bamgbose, 2000). Furthermore, the status of the English language might have been strengthened because of the dearth of qualified Indigenous language teachers (Olagbaju & Akinsowon, 2014); particularly since the English language is the first language (L1) of majority of the pupils (Ibid). As earlier stated, although, English language within this multilingual terrain acts as the unifying language of Nigeria, the proficiency and use of indigenous languages is the key to development (Mu’azu 2014). As such and in spite of the many criticisms, the English language remains the language of educational evaluation in the Country.


This implication highlights the contradiction between reality and perception on languages in the educational system. Evidently, the use of the English language has profound advantages, however, it appears to have created a skewed perception towards indigenous language(s); this situation underscores the purpose of the research study.


The effect that the implementation of the NPE with regards to the adoption of indigenous language as the MOI in the first three years of primary education could have had on proficiency can be seen in other countries that adopted similar policies.

In Malawi, for instance, Chichiwa (the L1) was adopted in some primary schools as MOI for the first four years. However, an investigation by Eddie Williams (1998), testing the proficiency in The English language of students who attended these schools compared to those of students in Zambia, whose MOI was English from the primary level, concluded that there was no significant difference (p. 915).


The teaching and learning environment may have an effect on language attitude. Gardner (1985) argued, “language learning, without the support of positive language attitudes, is a futile attempt “(in Dornyei & Csizer, 2006:24). An example is the English language acquisition techniques in the European Union, which is subsumed in multi-cultural and multilingual contexts.  To enhance the use of English language as a unifying language, the Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL), was introduced to encourage language acquisition (Coyle, 2006). CLIL centres on teaching subject and language simultaneously, involving the application of the 4C’s

(Content, Communication, Cognition and Culture) to enable language fluency (Coyle

2007 in Lasagabaster & Beloqui, 2015:43). At the macro-level, “policies underpin the CLIL; and they have a political undertone” (Dalton-Puffer 2011:182). Its effect at the grassroots is due to the work of individual teachers and certain schools (Ibid).


The benefit of CLIL in Europe is to encourage bi and multilingualism, where “academic proficiency” hopes to be achieved in about seven years (Coyle, 2006). The result, however, appears to be dependent on fluency, rather than accuracy. In contrast, English is taught as a foreign language (FL or ESL) where non-native speakers employ it, based on the level of proficiency (Wright, 2010) and as MOI in formal settings. Therefore, the CLIL and ESL, basically have the same aim, which is language proficiency, but different approaches. Needless to say, language acquisition appears to have been achieved well in situations where the language is utilised as

MOI. An example of this model is used for French immersion in parts of Canada (Johnson & Swain, 1997), although more common for English immersion. Where there are practices of multilingualism, there are claims that for sufficient L2 proficiency, the use of any Language as MOI produces better language acquisition results than when taught as a subject curriculum (Ibid).  However, as earlier mentioned, whether fluency translates to academic proficiency, is debatable.


It is at this moment, pertinent to mention the works of Jim Cummins and Virginia

Collier, in differentiating social and academic language acquisition skills. Jim Cummins (1979) introduced the Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS) for language acquired in social settings that should not be confused with academic language acquisition, which he termed Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP) (in Haynes, 1998). This research supports the argument that fluency in a language as acquired from the social environment, will not translate to academic proficiency in a school setting. However, fluency can be a major prerequisite for academic proficiency and positive language attitude.


A model, similar to the French immersion was employed in a small-scale experiment carried out at the University of Ife, in Nigeria, to reveal the effect of employing the Yorùbá language as MOI in a formal context. This project, named  “The six-year primary project “, where a group of students had their primary education with the Yorùbá language as the MOI. They were able to compete academically with their peers who had their primary education with the English language as MOI. . They were also able to attain strong academic proficiency in the English language as L2. (Adeosun 2008:44)


Unfortunately, the non-implementation of NPE policies in the first three years of primary institutions may have had an effect on academic proficiency in the indigenous language (Olagbaju & Akinsowan, 2014), which pupils are required to take as a core subject and subsequently, at the West African Senior Secondary Certificate Examination (WASSCE). Many scholars argue that the weak grades achieved in the Yorùbá language are as a result of minimal language contact, which the average Nigerian student has had before admission into secondary school (Ibid). However, it should be stated here, that, the average Nigerian student who takes French as a second foreign language has minimal language contact before admission to secondary school as well. Not all primary schools offer the French language, as requested by NPE, to students.


A look at the record of entries and performance in public examinations in Kwara State

(the location of the school of study), offers empirical views to this issue of concern.

The summaries of WAEC entries and performance in Yorùbá and French languages for a period of 10 years (2005 – 2015) are given below;


Table 1: Subjects with Entry and Performance Figures of Students in the Yoruba Language in the May/June 2005- 2015 WASSCE in kwara State, Nigeria

Year No of


No.  and (%) of Passes at Grades 1 – 6 No and (%) of Passes at Grades 7 – 8 No   and    (%)    of

Failures  at Grades 9

2005 14,895 2,315 (16.67) 1,862 (13.40) 9,630 (69.35)
2006 14,480 4,430 (33.02) 1,735 (12.93) 6,058 (45.15)
2007 15,416 5,530 (38.98) 2,492 (17.56) 6,008 (42.35)
2008 14,176 2,435 (18.07) 2,250  (6.69) 8,638 (64.10)
2009 12,614 3,345 (27.71) 3,085 (24.89) 5,708 (47.29)
2010 12,920 4,652 (37.73) 3,843 (31.17) 3,753 (30.44)
2011 15,524 5,067 (34.31) 4,072 (27.57) 5,616 (38.02)
2012 14,918 5,844 (41.81) 5,204 (37.23) 2,877 (20.58)
2013 16,874 7,740 (47.89) 5,128 (31.73) 3,176 (19.65)
2014 14,993 5,887 (41.03) 4,798 (33.44) 3,365 (23.45)
2015 9,332 3,311 (36.86) 2,874 (31.99) 2,274 (25.31)

Data adapted from WAEC Executive Summary of Entries, Results and Chief

Examiners’ Report, (2015)


Table 2: Subjects with Entry and Performance Figures of Students in the French Language in the May/June 2005- 2015 WASSCE in Kwara State, Nigeria

Year No. of


No  and (%) of Passes at

Credit Level (Grades 1 – 6)

 No and (%) of Passes at Pass Level (Grades 7 – 8) No    and     %     of

Failures  (Grades 9)

2005 87 21 (26.58) 9 (11.39) 49 (62.02)
2006 82 30 (41.66) 19 (26.38) 23 (31.94)
2007 114 66 (64.07) 13 (12.62) 24 (23.30)
2008 184 77 (44.76) 52 (30.23) 43 (25.00)
2009 202 86 (45.50) 44 (26.92) 59 (31.21)
2010 195 90 (49.45) 49 (26.92) 43 (23.62)
2011 193 143 (79.00) 25 (13.81) 13 (7.18)
2012 199 139 (74.33) 39 (20.85) 9 (4.81)
2013 258 139 (59.14) 42 (17.82) 5 (2.97)
2014 199 167 (86.52) 11 (5.69) 15 (7.77)
2015 180 137 (80.58) 14 (8.23) 19 (11.12)

Data adapted from WAEC Executive Summary of Entries, Results and Chief Examiners’ Report, (2015)


The WASSCE results indicate fluctuations in the Yorùbá language grades, within the stated periods, while there is a progressive improvement on examination outcomes in the French Language. The reasons for the differences are highly debatable.


What factors are responsible for the examination outcomes in the Yorùbá language at the secondary level of education? Prior studies have been very few and have attempted to concentrate on the complexities of educationional policies and lack of corresponding adequate language attitude research (Adebija, 1994; 2000). Other studies have focused on the dearth of teaching materials and competent teachers (Fafunwa 1989), and the attitudes of teachers and parents towards students’ proficiency in the language (Olaolorun, Ikonta, & Adeosun, 2013). This study will concentrate on students’ attitude to the proficiency of Yorùbá language, in a privately owned Institution, in Kwara State, Nigeria, and some factors that influence it will be analysed in four listed dimensions;

  1. Sociolinguistic factors
  2. Socio-psychological factors
  3. Instructional Cognitive factors
  4. Socio-educational policies


1.2 Aims of the Investigation

The study attempts to examine attitudes towards Yorùbá language proficiency among secondary school students in Kwara state, Nigeria. Specific objectives are:

  1. To know if the linguistic background of students influences the attitude of students.
  2. To examine if the parents’ attitude and language background influence the attitude of students.
  3. To examine if the educational policies on indigenous languages influence the attitude of students.
  4. To rate the students’ language attitude towards Yorùbá, and to examine if the language attitude is related to proficiency.


For the purpose of this study, I will make certain clarifications about what defines L1 and L2. UNESCO, supported by schools of thought (Cook, Long and McDonough 1979) sets out the L1 as the first language, mother tongue or native language while the L2 is an acquired language in addition to the mother tongue. However, in Countries with complex linguistic dispositions like Nigeria, there are L2 readers, based on this definition, who do not have L1 (Are, 2013). Cook (1995:5), however, defines L1 regarding fluency and “infer all learning of languages other than the first irrespective of situation or purpose as L2” (Ibid). This definition finds support in the National Policy on Education, which accepts that the indigenous language can be viewed and implemented as L2, in certain contexts (NPE 2004:24). The NL2 policy was enacted with the objective of establishing unity and cohesion within a linguistically diversified Country, like Nigeria (Abatan, 2013). The aim of the NL2, therefore, is to enable the acquisition of a second indigenous language, on the assumption that the students understand the Mother Tongue Language (MTL) (Ibid). Despite the fact that in this study, the L2 is also the MTL, it supports this school of thought. It therefore permits the use of Second Language Acquisition (SLA) theories as the framework for the proposed study. Therefore, L1 will be referred to as the first spoken language and language of the highest degree of fluency while L2 will be the first learned language. There is no clear difference made between Foreign Language (FL) and second language (L2), in the literature review. I refer to the Yorùbá language in this study as L2.



1.3 Research Questions

The following research questions will guide this study:

  1. Do government policies on languages influence the students’ attitude towards the

Yorùbá language?

  1. Is there an influence of parental attitudes and language background on the students’ attitude towards the Yorùbá language?
  2. Are there more students with a positive attitude towards French than Yorùbá language? What is the direction of travel with regards to attitude towards the

Yorùbá displayed by students?

  1. Does the students’ language attitude influence Yoruba Language Proficiency?

Chapter one provides a background for the study, describing the aims methodology and research questions, as well as a brief review of the structure of the dissertation.  Chapter two seeks to explain the complex nature and consequently, diverse definitions of language attitude, as well as the literature review for the conducted study.

Chapter three concentrates on the methodology utilised, going on to provide support for its choice.

Chapter four discusses the analysis of the collected data and research findings. Chapter five attempts to explain the conclusions drawn from the analyzed data and makes recommendations for further research in this field of study.


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