Name: Peter Okonjo
Nationality or Ethnicity: Nigerian (Igbo)
Where do you live? Lagos and London
Languages: English, Spanish, Igbo, Hausa, Edo, Idoma, Wolof*, Yoruba*
What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?
I was raised in Lagos, Nigeria, in close proximity to people of many ethno-linguistic groups, including those outside my own Igbo, such as Hausa, Edo, Idoma, and Yoruba. Even as a young child, I found I could relatively easily pick up on the ways that people speaking other Nigerian languages made distinctions that I could tune into. So by spending time with them, over the years, I learned their languages. My wife is a Wolof-speaker from Senegal, so I learned her language in our ten years of marriage. For my business purposes, I find that having learned these other Nigerian languages has helped a lot in my professional life. I learned Spanish for fun when I first moved to London 12 years ago.
Which language do you wish you could spend more time practicing?
Spanish and Wolof, because they are not commonly spoken in Nigeria. The other ones I tend to get continual exposure to.
What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?
Nigeria is a very linguistically diverse country, and has the three major African language families inside its borders, so I would like to enrich myself with more of its diversity.
So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?
I like my own Igbo the most, but because my wife is Senegalese, I should say Wolof.
What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?
Learning about my country and making friends, as well as doing business, tends to make the use of my languages very enjoyable for me.
Some people say the world is really just going to have a few languages left in a 100 years, do you think this is really true?
Over time, I think that young people will become more and more lazy and stick to major languages like English, which is very sad.
What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?
Think of learning languages as an opportunity - then take those opportunities.