Language is a representation of culture. Should our African languages go out of existence, what happens to many aspects of our cultures? According to the United Nations Organization, over 50% of African languages risk extinction by the year 2100, and Africa alone accounts for about 12% of soon to be non-existent languages. Linguists agree that a primary factor which is killing many African languages is the limited or absence of speakers. Also, given that most African languages are not documented, and do not evolve, the possibility of their non-existence is very high. This implies that significant parts of African culture are at the risk of perishing alongside the languages, if nothing is done to ensure their sustainability. Meet Maimouna Inna Aliyu, the founder of Fulfulde Class; she and her team of six have been working on digitizing and documenting the Fufulde language as a solution to sustainably promoting the speaking and learning of this language which ranks as one of Cameroon’s most spoken ethnic languages and is also spoken in over 16African countries.
Maimouna is a student at the Advanced School of Post and Telecommunications where she studies Transport Planning. This is what she had to say about the birth of her brain child, Fufulde Class; “After my 1st degree, I went to apply for a job. The questions which were given during the written phase of the interview were all in English. As a non-English speaker, I was unable to understand or respond to these questions. Thus, I could not get the job. For this reason, I enrolled at a language institute to boost my skills in English. The resources put in place to facilitate my learning of this foreign language ranged from books, to YouTube videos and other materials. They were so effective that within three months of learning, my skills in written and spoken English had ameliorated significantly”. She further explains that she was later confronted with a similar situation when an old man from her village sent her a text message in her mother-tongue, Fufulde. Given that she had not grown in an environment where the language was constantly spoken, her skills in it were average. Thus, she could not digest the meaning of his message. Now, her only options were either to wait till evening when she would get home and her parents to interpret the message, or go online and look for websites or videos to assist in her learning of Fulfulde. Given the urgency of the situation, her best option was to go online. To her greatest dismay, there was very limited literature which could assist in her learning of Fulfulde. Even the available material was very shallow and provided next to no help for a learner of Fufulde. This was a very problematic situation, as the only onsite venue in Cameroon where Fulfulde is taught is found in Marou, Far North region. “This made me wonder, what is the fate of my fellow descendants of Fufulde speakers who are not in their native land? Don’t they also have a right to learn their language? “Maimouna added. It was at this point that she came up with the idea of Fufulde Class.
Fufulde Class is a digital platform which seeks to facilitate the teaching and learning of African languages, with the objective of preventing their extinction as well as preserving African cultures. This platform was launched in 2021 with a YouTube channel https://www.youtube.com/c/fufuldeclass/ . On the channel, the Fufulde Class team uploaded several videos in which they explained lessons on the Fufulde language to their viewers. Over the years, Fufulde class has come up with other learner friendly materials tailored to suit the changing needs and demands of learners so as to ease the learning of Fufulde. Some of the resources put in place so far include: books like “ 491 EXPRESSIONS A MAITRISER POUR PARLER LE FUFULDE” an audio books such as “ PARLER LE FUFULDE COMME UN NATIF” and “ LES FULBES NE SAVENT-ILS PAS COMPTER?” These pieces of literature have greatly helped in the learning of this Sahelian language.
One of the subscribers of Fulfulde class is Amombi Horrace, a Cameroonian from the North West who works with Non-governmental Organizations in the Northern regions of Cameroon where Fufulde is the most popular ethnic language. Horrace says that through Fufulde Class he has been able to learn Fufulde as well as the Fulbe culture. This has therefore facilitated his integration into the Northern communities of Cameroon as well as eased his work. As Nelson Mandela said, “when you speak a person’s language, you speak his heart.” Other than social benefits, this subscriber says that his ability to speak Fufulde has increased his bargaining power in the markets within the vicinity where he works.
In order to further secure a niche for Fulfulde and the Fulbe culture in this digital era, the Fulfulde Class team is working on generating a mobile app so as to effectively accompany their learners on their journey to acquire this language. This product will soon be available on Google Play store and Apple Store
The Fufulde Class initiative is one which has had a significant impact so far, given that their first language of focus, Fufulde is spoken across sixteen different countries.
If more of such initiatives are developed and encouraged in Cameroon and Africa at large, this would go a long way to preserve our unique culture and identity.
Inasmuch as language is the expression of the cultural realities of a people, the realities of African cultures are evolving. This means that African languages need to evolve so as to adapt to the present realities of the people. But how can this be done? Just as there exists a French Academy to regulate and promote the French language, we could also have an Academy for African languages. True such an Academy, the documentation, digitalization and evolution of African languages could be guaranteed. This is part of Fufulde Class’ vision.
A people without an identity is a people without a culture. Just as our languages are ambassadors of our respective cultures, they are part of our identity. Thus, a great part of our identity as Africans depends on our ability to preserve and sustain our ethnic languages, thereby preserving our cultures.
#My culture, my identity