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Checking foul languages in schools

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RECENTLY, while at a friend’s shop, a mother sent her seven-year-old daughter to pick some back-to-school items from the shop.

The girl came, met us discussing, without any form of greeting, she said to my friend, “Aunty, ka anyi lua,” meaning “Aunty, let’s reason”. This may sound normal to one who does not understand Igbo language, but it’s a very banal slang associated with motor park touts.  The lady helped her pick some shoes and gave her to go and show her mum.

Some minutes later, she returned and demanded for prices of the shoes.  My friend wrote the prices on a piece of paper and gave her. As she was leaving, she said to the lady “Aunty ngwanu ka m waa na” meaning, “Ok Aunty, let me leave now”.  This mere translation may also sound common, but it is a slang that should not be heard from a well trained child.

Obscenity and profanity can be said to mean offensive, insulting, disrespectful and inappropriate languages, which do not correspond to the norms of standard language. These have become significant issues that schools must get a handle on.

Profanity especially has become a problem in part because students hear grownups and even their parents use some words that are unacceptable at schools and societies. Furthermore, pop culture has made the use of some non-standard languages a more acceptable practice.

The entertainment industry, especially music, movies, and television glamourise the use of obscenities and profanity.  Sadly, these days, our kids learn the use of profane and obscene words from very young ages.

Children begin using words that raise the hair on the back of our necks after they’ve heard others use those words, or after those words have been aimed at them. Grownups use this kind of languages when they’re upset, and the behavior trickles down toward children, usually with the original emotional heat welded to the words.

Because harsh behavior spreads like a bad cold from adult to child and then from child to child, just about every child on the planet is exposed to name-calling, bad words or behavior, sooner or later. So, it’s not your child’s fault that he has acquired harsh language, any more than it’s his fault that he gets a runny nose.

When children use harsh languages, they may not understand what the words mean literally. It’s always the tone that makes an imprint on them, and it’s the tone that raises parental warning flags. That electric emotional charge irritates the child’s delicate internal system, and makes the words stick like little globs of muck in their innocent minds.

Then, when the child feels isolated, threatened or upset, out comes this little pre-fabricated routine of harsh words and usually with a harsh tone, just the way he once heard it. It isn’t what the child really wants to be doing, but he literally can’t think of any other way to signal that he is feeling badly. He’s upset. His behavior says, “See what I’ve been exposed to. It’s nasty and disturbing. I’m going to show you how awful it is.” Then, he gives you a vivid picture of what he’s heard at school or on the street. It’s a cry for help.

But then, one may ask:  “How and where do children learn bad words?

Mr Dennis Usonwa, a Psychologist said, “a child usually learns bad words from adults around him.  It’s not always the adults or parents who are to blame in this. A child can also learn foul languages or curse words from his peers who, in turn, may have been exposed to adults speaking bad words.

And nowadays, when most children watch TV and actively use the Internet, they learn foul languages from these sources as well. So, there are many sources from which children learn languages that are not socially acceptable.

By the time a child enters kindergarten or school, his initial language and approach to it is already developed. A lot of a child’s learning takes place through a process called ‘imitation’. Parents become role models for children without the parents even realising it.

A child learns most of his initial mannerisms and behaviour from the family. He picks up language from what he hears at home, from friends and relatives.

Research too shows that when a child sees an adult handling frustration and anger with swear words and foul languages, he does the same when caught in a similar situation. In fact, he uses it at the first opportunity. He does this without understanding the meaning or feeling inhibited.

The influence of the peer group is another factor in children’s language. From about the age of four, there is a growing need for playing and conversing with children of approximately the same age.

In his peer group, the child learns to give and take. Once the child learns to identify with children of his own age, parental identification become less pronounced and he grows into peer society and its culture. He apes his peers in order to fit into the group. In case the family influence is stronger than peer group, the child is able to resist it”.

On why children use bad words, he said “a child can swear for a variety of reasons, but not necessarily because she understands the meaning of the words. Some of the reasons a child uses bad languages are to explore the language, fit into a group that uses the language, sound funny, attract attention, imitate, or to hurt or upset others.

How you react to your child using bad words will determine whether your child drops the habit or continues with it. When your child uses a bad word, don’t overreact or panic. Stay calm and explain to him that the word he has used is not acceptable. Speak to him about his choice of words.

If a parent expresses shock, or resorts to punishing the child, this behaviour can actually get reinforced and might surface each time the child wishes to provoke the parent. Instead, a better approach would be to calmly tell the child that such language is inappropriate, and that if a child still chooses to use such language, there would be consequences. It is necessary to negotiate the consequences beforehand, when the child is in a good mood and willing to listen, rather than to hurl it at the child in the heat of the moment. When parents impose sudden consequences without prior negotiation with the child, it no longer remains a consequence – it becomes a punishment.

Speaking also, Mrs Egodi Chidozie, a teacher in Community Primary School, Amanuke, said, “By the time kids start school, they are already saying all the words that we try to protect them from. We found out that using foul language really takes off between ages three and four.”

When young children use foul languages from the ages of four or three years, they are usually just repeating what they have heard, probably at home. Because they are learning to use language to communicate, children mimic words to make sounds and to see how those around them will respond.

And at these ages, for most kids around here, they are still at home. Reason is that parents around this rural area hardly enroll their children in nursery schools, may be because of the cost.  So, what I am trying to say is that these kids learn these foul languages from home.

The amazing thing here is that these parents always come to the school to tell us that their kids have started using some socially unacceptable languages which they learnt from school. I always tell them that these kids started school with these words. This has been causing problems around here between teachers and parents.

It’s a good idea for parents and other adults at home to discuss and agree on acceptable language, and discuss this with the child. They should refrain from using those words they don’t want the kids to learn, especially when in anger”.

She also stressed the fact that being a parent does not give one the privilege or the right to use foul languages.

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