A Nigerian woman has turned to YouTube to keep her native language alive

Catch them young.
Catch them young.
Image: AP Photo/Gerald Herbert
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Gbemisola Isimi, a UK-based Nigerian, speaks only Yoruba, her native language, to her two children. Keeping her language alive is important to her. Soon after her first child was born, she looked online for tools to help, but she was out of luck.

“I wanted my daughter to learn the language but I couldn’t find anything online,”she told Quartz.

So Isimi decided to start CultureTreeTV, a YouTube channel which helps kids learn Yoruba using fun, animated videos. Its tagline is ”keeping your roots alive.”

She focused on a video channel for two reasons. One was her daughter’s fondness for tech devices, even at a young age. ”I noticed she was always engrossed with my iPad and enjoyed watching nursery rhymes online.”

The second reason is the effectiveness of music as a teaching tool. ”From experience, I’ve found that music and stories are a great way to teach young children basic vocabulary in any given language. The younger the learner, the better they are at mimicking new sounds and adopting pronunciation,” she says.

Isimi started by translating nursery rhymes to Yoruba. She then got in touch with an animator to help create the videos. Since launching in April, Isimi has published over 15 videos. The first, a translation of “old MacDonald had a farm,” has garnered over 13,000 views.

Over time, Isimi says she plans to include not just more Nigerian languages, but also major African languages like Swahili. “Lots of people want to pass the language to their children but don’t have the ways or material to do so,” she told Quartz.

Isimi has already received offers from local TV channels in Nigeria to air her videos. But she insists she’s mainly focused on the diaspora.

“If I had my way, every Nigerian Yoruba child in London would know how to speak their language. That’s my mission,” she says“We need to keep our heritage alive. We need to keep our culture alive. We need to keep our language alive. The children need to be bilingual.”