Foreign languages – especially English – enjoy the highest positive attitudes in regard to their acquisition and use. To many Kenyans, the perception is that a knowledge of English is a true sign of having good school education.
Kiswahili, the national language, enjoys widespread acceptance and use. It’s an inter-ethnic language of communication and generally it is used as a lingua franca. It is the most common language in Kenyan towns and market centres.
The lowest group of languages in the preference scale are the indigenous that majority of Kenyans acquire and know well. They are used in homes, in open-air markets across the country, in worship services and to some extent in pre-primary and primary schools as co-languages of teaching.
But perceptions might gradually shift with the inclusion of these indigenous languages in Kenya’s new curriculum. The country’s language-in-education policy states that indigenous languages should be used to teach children from grade one up to three. This policy has been in existence from 1976.
But the lack of enforcement means that discussions about the importance of the use of indigenous languages in schools is still hotly debated.
Kenyan language scholars have for decades advocated and written about the role mother tongues should play in the country. The challenge has been that those who champion this approach don’t control public resources. The result is that nothing ever gets done about it.