Multilingual Education in Kenya: Implications for Culture Preservation and Transmission
Kenya is a multilingual society comprised of as many as 42 different ethnic groups with about the same number of languages and/or dialects. In addition to these indigenous languages, Kenya, like many other countries adopted the colonizer’s language, English, as the official language (Muaka in Language perceptions and identity among Kenyan speakers, 2011). As would be expected, the English language is not only highly regarded, but those who can speak it are considered to have more privileges in public domains. In addition to the 42 indigenous languages, Kiswahili, with its various regional derivatives, is the national language. As official and national languages respectively, English and Kiswahili are taught and examined in schools. Accordingly, everyone with at least elementary level education speaks some Kiswahili and English. The emphasis in the two languages buoyed by their ascribed status, academic, and economic utility has relegated indigenous languages as less important; thus, threatening their survival. In fact, many children in Kenya speak only English and Kiswahili and have little comprehension, if any, of their parents’ indigenous language(s). Notwithstanding the clear advantages of the English and Kiswahili languages, there is need to feature and teach native languages in schools, as they are pivotal to the preservation and transmission of indigenous cultures and hence the identity of the Kenyan nation. This chapter examines the impact that the emphasis on English and Kiswahili languages has had on indigenous languages since Kenya attained its independence in 1963 and discusses the importance of including indigenous languages as language subjects and media of instruction in schools.
KeywordsKenya Bilingualism Multilingualism English Kiswahili Indigenous languages Education Sheng
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