Major Languages Used for Education in Nigeria

Among the several languages spoken among natives of Africa, Nigeria particularly, there are those major languages used for education in Nigeria which today have formed competition with the English language. Even though many of them are regarded as local languages which are too indigenous to be qualified as international modes of communication.

Nigeria is one of the most linguistically diverse countries in the world, with over 500 languages spoken. The official language is English, but it is spoken less frequently in rural areas and amongst people with lower education levels. Other major languages spoken include: Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo, Fulfulde, Ibibio, Kanuri, and Tiv. Nigerian Sign Language, Hausa Sign Language, and Bura Sign Language are all used in Nigeria.

But because of their versatility and the wideness of their coverage among tribes even beyond the shores of Nigeria, many of these major languages used for education in Nigeria are almost spreading their tentacles across the world too.

Another reason for why they are so used is also that language could be a strong barrier against effective learning. Not many students understand English language being the official and of course the second language. Hence, they will need to be communicated to in a more comprehensible language.

You cannot blame them. Even in China and other international countries in the universe, indigenous languages are commonly used for education and for other sectors of their daily lives. Students understand subjects better and faster when they are relayed in indigenous languages.


Shortly looking into some of the functions of language in the general sense of it should give you glimpses into its usefulness in the world of education.

  • Language is Arbitrary

Language is arbitrary in the sense that there is no inherent relation between the words of a language and their meanings or the ideas conveyed by them. There is no reason why a female adult human being be called a woman in English, aurat in Urdu, Zen in Persian and Femine in French.

The choice of a word selected to mean a particular thing or idea is purely arbitrary but once a word is selected for a particular referent, it comes to stay as such. It may be noted that had language not been arbitrary, there would have been only one language in the world.

  • Language is Social

Language is a set of conventional communicative signals used by humans for communication in a community. Language in this sense is a possession of a social group, comprising an indispensable set of rules which permits its members to relate to each other, to interact with each other, to co-operate with each other; it is a social institution. Language exists in society; it is a means of nourishing and developing culture and establishing human relations.

  • Language is Symbolic

Language consists of various sound symbols and their graphological counterparts that are employed to denote some objects, occurrences or meaning. These symbols are arbitrarily chosen and conventionally accepted and employed. Words in a language are not mere signs or figures, but symbols of meaning. The intelligibility of a language depends on a correct interpretation of these symbols.

Read Also: Why English is Important in Nigerian Universities

  • Language is Systematic

Although language is symbolic, yet its symbols are arranged in a particular system. All languages have their system of arrangements. Every language is a system of systems. All languages have phonological and grammatical systems, and within a system there are several sub-systems.

For example, within the grammatical system we have morphological and syntactic systems, and within these two sub-systems we have systems such as those of plural, of mood, of aspect, of tense, etc.

  • Language is Vocal

Language is primarily made up of vocal sounds only produced by a physiological articulatory mechanism in the human body. In the beginning, it appeared as vocal sounds only. Writing came much later, as an intelligent attempt to represent vocal sounds. Writing is only the graphic representation of the sounds of the language. So the linguists say that speech is primary.

  • Language is Non-instinctive and Conventional

No language was created in a day out of a mutually agreed upon formula by a group of humans. Language is the outcome of evolution and convention. Each generation transmits this convention on to the next. Like all human institutions, languages also change and die, grow and expand. Every language then is a convention in a community. It is non-instinctive because it is acquired by human beings. No body gets a language in heritage; he acquires it because he an innate ability.

  • Language is Productive and Creative

Language has creativity and productivity. The structural elements of human language can be combined to produce new utterances, which neither the speaker nor his hearers may ever have made or heard before any, listener, yet which both sides understand without difficulty. Language changes according to the needs of society.

Major Languages in Nigerian Education

So, in order to bring this effectiveness, some parts of the larger Nigerian community have resolved therefore to adopt some prominently major languages as tools to be used for quality academic resolution in Nigeria. Below are these major languages used for education in Nigeria:

  • Yoruba in the South

The Yoruba language is now spoken by about 21 million people (18.9 million – the first language and 2 million as second) in Nigeria. The Yoruba language is a major language in Nigeria. The main areas that speak this language are Oyo, Osun, Kwara, Ogun, Ondo, and Lagos states and some parts of Kogi State.

Yoruba is also widely spoken outside Nigeria. Same as the Igbo language, it is so widespread abroad due to Nigerian immigrants in the UK and the USA. This makes the Yoruba language the top most spoken Nigerian language in the world.

  • Hausa in the North

It is the most common language in Nigeria. It is also often associated with the Islamic culture. According to the electronic edition of Ethnologue – 1991 SIL, for 18.5 million of Nigerians Hausa is the first language and 15 million speak this language as the second.

If we consider Wikipedia data for 2016, Hausa is the native language for about 70 million people, at the same time for 50 million of Nigerians, it is the second language. Sokoto, Kaduna, Katsina, Kano, Bauchi, Jigawa, Zamfara, Kebbi, and Gombe states are main areas that speak the Hausa language. The Hausa language is not just the states’ local dialect. It is used for broadcasting on international radio stations, such as the BBC.

  • Igbo in the East

More than 24 million people in Nigeria use the Igbo language for daily communication. Citizens of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, and Imo states use the Igbo language as their first language. In some parts of Akwa Ibom, Delta and Rivers states, the Igbo language is also spoken. But the Igbo language is prevalent in not Nigeria alone. It gained its popularity in Cameroun and Equatorial Guinea.

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