Adedeji Odulesi, a native of Ogun State is a professional Master of Ceremonies who speaks eight languages. In this chat with the Editor of AN24.net, Paul Dada, this polyglot speaks on how he came to be multilingual through hard work and determination.
Let us take a peep into your background
I am a Yoruba by birth. My parents are Yoruba. My dad is from Ogun state; Iperu to be precise. My mum is from Epe in Lagos State. I am the second child in the family. I grew up in Warri, Delta state. I was able to start picking up languages in Warri because it is a melting point of cultures.
You did say Warri is a melting point of cultures. Lagos is also a melting point of cultures, but not everybody that grew up in a cosmopolitan city like Warri and Lagos, gets to become a polyglot. There must be something you consciously did to make yourself become a polyglot.
There is a saying and belief among the Warri people: Warri no dey carry last. Warri people are said to be energetic, so, I developed the Warri spirit, which helped me. I picked up English, Pidgin English, and of course Yoruba since my parents are Yoruba. We had Igbo neighbors who used to insult us in their language, and I couldn’t get what they were saying. But I had the desire to know what they were saying. My parents, who were working in the education sector, were later transferred to the north and I was able to make the Hausas my good friends. I mingled with them deliberately in order to pick the language, and I succeeded. My dad had Hausa workers who could not speak the English Language, so, I became his interpreter.
The secondary school I attended, offered French. And I was super fascinated about the language that I became the best French student. I did it from JSS one to three. And when I got to the Senior Secondary School, I did Further Mathematics, and had to drop French. Towards my SSS 3, I started mingling with the Igbos and fortunately for me, my parents at that period, relocated to the east. I spent about three years in Imo State. We lived in a confined area, where we couldn’t interact with people; So, I used the church as my point of learning. I had to borrow the Igbo Bible. There was a programme on a radio station called the Imo Broadcasting Corporation where they did lots of music and entertainment in the Igbo language. That helped me to pick up rapidly. I gained admission to the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta. I visited the west for the first time, and settled in Abeokuta. I used that opportunity to go back to French. I got foreign materials, and cassettes which were the available means of learning then in the early 1990s, unlike now, where you have the likes of YouTube. I made friends with people from the Niger Republic and people who spoke those languages I had learned, including the Yoruba language. I got the German and Spanish Bibles. Before graduating, people knew there was somebody who could speak French. So, when they had programmes where they needed someone to speak a foreign language, they engaged me. That was how I bettered my French. I utilised any opportunity I had to interact with the owners of the language, and it helped my improvement on the language. As an undergraduate, I could speak the three Nigerian languages and French.
So, how did you pick up the German and Spanish languages?
Along the line, I realised that, if I were to be internationally relevant, I needed to add up an international language. Spanish is a global language, and the whole of Latin America, aside from Brazil, speaks Spanish. I started learning it online. I got materials and the Spanish Bible too. German did not come to me directly. It came through a challenge. In 2006, I anchored an international conference in Ilorin, where I surprised the audience by speaking Nigerian and foreign languages Someone came closer to me, and spoke German but I couldn’t figure out what he was saying. I, however, noticed it was similar to the English Language. So, I told the person that the next time I would meet him, I would speak the language to him. That was around 2016. So in 2017, I enrolled at Goethe-Institut in Lagos. Fortunately, I put in a lot of interest and I became the best student, and was given a scholarship. Along the line, it was stressful for me, combining the German institute with my office work. So, I had to continue the learning process on my own. Over time, the languages began to yield dividends.
I know that learning these languages takes a lot of time and energy. I am wondering, how were you able to balance that with your regular work and family?
Fortunately for me, my regular work is communication, though I am a farmer. The major thing I do is anchor events. My exposure continued as I did radio and Tv programmes. My family had to key into it because, it makes me come back home with loads and loads of goodies.
How would you on the scale of 1 to 10 rate your proficiency in each of the languages you speak?
For English, when I started, people drew my attention to the fact that I needed to improve on my diction. I had to enroll for an advanced training. I therefore attended the Broadcast Academy run by Radio Nigeria. So, the foreign accent came in. Maybe, I will give myself 8 over 10 in English. For Yoruba, I am just an average speaker. Since I didn’t go to any school for it, I am average. But I can read and write and as well, apply the tones in the language. So, I won’t give myself more than 7. For Ijebu, I didn’t go to school for it. I just picked it up from my parents. I will give myself 6. For Hausa, It is a fantastic language. I spent like 10 years in the north. It is very easy to learn and speak. So, I can give myself 8. For Igbo, it is 7. French, 7. But for German, being at the intermediate level, I will give myself 5. For Spanish, it is 4 because I have not done any exam to move to the intermediate level.
What level of goodwill has these languages attracted to your brand as an MC?
Well, I have been doing this for a very long time. I actually started my brand in 2006. And that was how I entered into the market. I had the grace and ability to switch from language to language. When speaking, I can switch into German, French and English without having to think about it. It comes naturally, but there has been a lot of practice. The rate at which I speak these languages at events has brought me lots of goodwill, fame and other good things. It has brought me opportunities both local and international. There was a video I did for Deeper Life High School, and it went viral beyond the shores of Nigeria. Aside from giving me job opportunities, it has added to the number of friends I have both online and offline. My Facebook account got filled up overnight. I have been called for interviews on radio stations, including the BBC.
Now, would you say the level of income you get from speaking different languages is commensurate with the efforts you put into learning them?
I have been more than compensated. Now people see me on the road and say they saw me on TV. I am now called to anchor life programmes. I don’t charge peanuts to for those programmes. Aside from the financial aspect of it, the glamour I get is wonderful. I became a celebrity as people keep saying they saw me on TV every now and then.
Before you anchor a programme, do you normally agree with the organisers on the number of languages you would speak?
For some, yes, especially if it is an ECOWAS programme. The last one I did, I didn’t include German as German is not an ECOWAS language. Generally, it depends on the agreement with my client.
Many MCs do not speak more than the English language. Should we say it is important for an MC to have knowledge of more one language?
There is a good number of persons who need to hear their languages spoken to them, and when this is not done, they end up not being satisfied. So, it is important for an MC who wants to go far and also satisfy his audience to have a command of more than two languages. And some MCs are taking steps in that direction.