With Ololade Siyonbola: Founder, Yoruba Cultural Institute

[Education: Language]

With Ololade Siyonbola: Founder, Yoruba Cultural Institute

BSN:  Tell us a bit about yourself and when and why you founded Yoruba Cultural Institute?

Ololade: I was born in Nigeria and emigrated to the States as a seven year old after living in London for two years. My family did not speak Yoruba at home so I forgot all the Yoruba I’d spoken as a small child. I founded the Yoruba Cultural Institute in 2008 after living in New York and learning Yoruba from friends; and discovering that the same alienation I felt from my Yoruba-speaking counterparts was experienced by a whole generation of immigrant youth.

BSN: Are there many publications available in the U.S. in Yoruba?

Ololade: There is maybe one that is actually published in Yoruba. Others are published by Yorubas but written in English.

BSN: Tell us how the Institute has grown and who are the kind of people who come to learn the language and what attracts them?

Ololade: It’s grown from two people, myself and my late husband, providing instruction and materials on a per request basis, to a team of several teachers and professionals providing classes via web, one-on-one tutorial and classroom instruction to Nigerians and non-Nigerians from Brooklyn to California to Austria.

They are attracted by our approach and motivated by different needs. The Nigerian students often share my need to reconnect, talk to grandparents who speak little or no English. They want to relate more intimately with their parents, cousins, peers. They want to know who they truly are and where they come from. The non-Nigerians are also searching for a deeper connection with the Continent of their ancestry. Many may practice traditional religions and wish to better understand their practice or may just be seeking some profound sense of identity they can not get in a European language.

BSN: How long does each session last and what are the fees?

Ololade: We provide a 12-week session in the summer and the fall, and the cost is $1,200 including all materials. Students are encouraged to continue their learning in one on one sessions up to two years. For One-on-One tutorial, we require a minimum commitment of six months, and the cost is $500 per month.

BSN: How long does it take a beginner to become proficient in the basic language and then become an ‘intermediate’ level and ‘advanced’ level?

Ololade: Basics are mastered in the 12-week class and students are then able to communicate effectively in Yoruba. The Intermediate certificate is usually awarded after another 6 months of study and advanced certificates after one year. Fluency certificates are awarded after the equivalent of two years of study with practice in Nigeria.

BSN: How do new learners of the language practice what they’ve recently learned or do they have to wait until they visit Nigeria?

Ololade: We do support those who are prepared to travel to Nigeria as, with any language, you don’t know it until you’ve spoken it at the source. But we do host gatherings where Yoruba is spoken–dinners, film nights, outings–and provide our students with access to Yoruba events where they can mix and mingle with Yoruba speakers, using the dialogues mastered in class. A lot of our students have Yoruba family members or friends with whom they practice. For those who don’t, our teachers become their friends.

BSN: In addition to language are there lessons in history? Tradition? Culture and music?

Ololade: Yes, we do also provide culture and history workshops and lectures, drumming classes and batik arts. The language courses are rich with lessons on the culture as well because truly, it is impossible to separate the two.


For more please visit www.learnyoruba.org




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