Oyemaja Executives, a division of The Oyemaja Group.
Growing up, it was common practice in Nigerian elementary and secondary schools to never speak “vernacular”. Culprits received painful strokes of the cane. This seemed unreasonable; why can I speak a certain language in school, yet transact in my local language outside school hours? It felt like observing an illusion, yet living a totally different reality.
But what is the norm in workplaces; offices with men and women all in starched skirts and pleated skirts?
Vernacular is one’s mother tongue, as opposed to a learned second language. It’s basically your local language. Companies, in recent times, try to implement policies that foster a relaxed work environment. For productivity, it’s become important to some employers to make employees feel at home and be expressive in carrying out assigned tasks. A good sign of ease among staff is relaxed communication and this could also be driven by vernacular speaking.
However, several other employers have a different view. For them, professionalism, class and reputation can only be derived by speaking English, as far as communication is concerned. Besides, as we will soon see, in a multilingual society like Nigeria, English encourages uniformity and eliminates tension, suspicion and discrimination in the workplace.
Is this fair? Should we sacrifice our local dialect to create an impression of ourselves? Here are the benefits of vernacular at the work place:
Deepened Clientele Relationship: One of the strongest ways to create an emotional connection between a client and a brand or company is through communication in a language they relate with and are comfortable with. Of course, this would depend on the type of customers the company serves. As much as possible, company adverts, consultations and the likes must encourage inclusivity of diverse cultures and languages. A perfect example is when ads are written and published in different languages to suit various audience types and languages. This way, you’re trying as much as possible to ensure no one is left out.
Efficient Team Work: Vernacular allows for team bonding which helps to produce faster and more seamless results. This stems from the fact that employees are given the freedom to express themselves in the best way they can. We can all agree that some concepts and terms are easier to understand when explained in one’s local language.
On the flip side, envision the verbal chaos if every employee is allowed to speak vernacular at will in Nigeria, where we have over 250 ethnic groups, all of different languages. Here are some downsides:
Division: Tribalism is always around the corner in multicultural societies. Employees would feel more connected to people from their tribe who also speak their language. This subconsciously breeds division and takes away the team spirit required to grow an organization.
Misuse: Just as we have slangs and foul languages in English, we have them in native tongues as well. As a matter of fact, native insults sting more, especially when you don’t understand the language. A work environment is meant to be formal, with mutual respect between employees. This can only be properly managed when everyone speaks and understands one language. With vernacular, things could spiral out of control.
We think it’s safe to speak vernacular in these circumstances:
Break time, lunch time or at a non-formal office event where everyone or your immediate group of people are comfortable speaking vernacular
In a conversation, where a client has expressed that they’re more comfortable speaking in vernacular
Out of office events with people from the office.
No, don’t even try it in these circumstances;
In sending emails, messages, correspondences and on company group pages.
A conference call or meeting, where the other participants are not comfortable with speaking vernacular
In addition to these dos and donts, it is important for companies to develop their own policies and work culture.