Solution to pathetic use of English in Nigeria

  1. A. Omodiaogbe says: ‘The global nosedive in the standard of English cannot but affect Nigeria. The standard of English has fallen at all levels of the school system and in all walks of life. The ivory towers that are supposed to be standard setters are affected. Unless something drastic is decisively done to arrest the ugly trend, the time is at hand when Nigerians would no longer understand each other, let alone understand a non-Nigerian user of English.’

The relevance of the above remark cannot be overemphasized. The present state of English in Nigeria either as a medium of instruction in schools or social communication is nothing to write home about. As the Coordinator of War Against the Falling Standard of English Project (WAFSEP), I have seen a lot. I cannot imagine seeing teachers scoring 2 out of 5 anytime our team asks them to spell common English words at Erudite training. It is pathetic.

While responses from private schools have largely been positive, public school teachers who need WAFSEP more have no access to it because the government is not ready. In 2014, we were informed that the Federal Government of Nigeria stopped practical oral English examination in 1996 because it was too ‘expensive’. So when we presented our ‘Remedial English Pronunciation Software’ to the Federal Ministry of Education to correct the irony of teaching oral English on paper or board in Nigerian schools, it faced a similar challenge in spite of the fact that the assessment panel considered it very helpful. This shows what our priorities are as a nation.

The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (9th Edition) now has iSpeaker for speaking and pronunciation skills but many schools may still miss the opportunity. How many of our acclaimed standard schools have benefitted from the old 608 MB Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary 8th Edition Software let alone the current rigorous 2.86 GB all-encompassing 9th Edition?

A lecturer recently told us of a professor of English who considered an expression incorrect until he, as a layman, showed him the usage in the dictionary. The reality is that many of the things Nigerian authors have judged wrong are (now) correct. But, how many of our scholars have up-to-date dictionaries? Who will inform our teachers in schools to stop teaching wrong vocabulary and archaic grammar rules?

In order not to belabour the point, we would recommend the following steps to salvage the situation.

  1. The Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council (NERDC) should update the Nigerian English curriculum to match the dynamism of the language. The new curriculum is expected to facilitate the teaching of effective everyday vocabulary and descriptive grammar.
  2. The Federal and State Ministries of Education should organize training to build and update teachers’ skills.
  3. Examination bodies such as WAEC and NECO should start the affordable alternative-to-practical oral English as a way of setting the stage for real practical oral English examinations.
  4. JAMB and other examination bodies should review their question patterns to reflect the dynamism of English. This will help against unnecessary question recycling that has been on for decades.
  5. Non-governmental organizations should support the Government in building and equipping language laboratories for schools to facilitate practical oral English teaching and examination, and use of other modern learning resources.
  6. Teacher-training bodies such as NTI and NCCE should design a course to reflect new trends in English teaching and usage.
  7. Since new editions of dictionaries are now published every five years, training and unified online tests for teachers should take place accordingly. This will keep our teachers abreast of updates to the English language like the 900 new entries to Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary.

With our static curriculum and old approach to teaching against the dynamic English language, we may keep swimming against the tide and wallowing in the realms of hypo- and hyper-correction. The time to act is now. We pray the seven recommendations above receive the immediate attention of the Honourable Minister of Education, Commissioners for Education and other educational stakeholders in Nigeria.


  • Saheed is coordinator, War Against the Falling Standard of English Project (WAFSEP).