Practice English everyday with VOA Special English

Tuesday, August 20, 2013 | Latest audio lessons → VOA Learning English

Working to Protect West African Languages and Culture

From VOA Learning English, this is the Education Report.

Experts estimate that half of the 6,000 languages spoken on our planet will have disappeared by the end of the century. In West Africa, academics are trying to protect the language and rich cultural heritage of Togo.

At the University of Lome, professor N'bueke Adovi Goeh-Akue studies video of Gen cultural rituals. The professor is a cultural heritage specialist. He himself is a Gen, one of many ethnic groups in Togo. He has made films of Gen cultural customs with financial assistance from the United States. He says the Gen have an important place in Togo's history and culture. Gen rituals show how its people see their world, the interaction between the living and the dead, the seen and the unseen.

The Gen believe in many different voodoo gods. But today, professor Goeh-Akue says fewer and fewer Gen children go through voodoo initiation ceremonies. He says that increasingly, the new generation does not recognize the importance of these cultural traditions. He says formal education and the spread of Christianity have reduced their influence. Many young people think traditional practices are uncivilized. And while the Gen language is widely spoken in Lome, the professor says it is not taught in schools. Gen is one of about 39 languages spoken in Togo.

Anahit Minasyan is a language specialist with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. He says a language needs people who speak it as their first language. She says a language needs people who can speak it as their second language. If there are not, she says, a language is extinct. She says languages can die as a result of increasingly globalization. For VOA Learning English, I'm Alex Villarreal.