Multilingualism in Ghanaian Professional Domains: Policy versus Practice


Multilingualism, the ability to communicate in more than one language, is characteristic of the Ghanaian professional space. However, there seems to be a gap in both policy and practice on the use of multiple languages, including local ones, especially in the delivery of public services.

Professor Nana Aba Appiah Amfo, Pro Vice Chancellor (ASA), University of Ghana and Professor of Linguistics (with specialization in Pragmatics) has analyzed the policy gap in language use in the Ghanaian professional space. Speaking at a colloquium on Comparing Language Practice and Language Contact in Ghana and Cape Verde, organized by the European University Viadrina, Germany, Prof. Amfo presented a linguistic analysis on language use in education, health, governance, corporate institutions, and the media.



Unlike the Cape Verdean educational system which is largely monolingual (that is, only one language is the mode of teaching), the Ghanaian educational system uses a variety of languages, with English language dominating as the language of instruction. The multilingual nature of our classrooms allows teachers to resort to the use of local languages such as Ga, Akan, Ewe, Dagbani, etc, as the need arises. Though in practice many languages are used, Prof. Amfo in her speech recounted the checkered history of our language in education policy. According to her, measures must be put in place to ensure the use of local language(s) specifically as a medium of instruction which is “decoupled from language as a subject of learning in school”. Again, Prof. Amfo reiterated the recommendation made in 2015 to the Ghanaian government by the School of Languages International Conference (SOLCON I) that “training, posting and transfer of teachers should be informed by their language competences”. This will be in “recognition of the pivotal role of the mother languages/local languages as the means of self-expression”, she stressed.



The Ministry of Health has no clear policy on language use in healthcare delivery. Health workers in the country are trained in English. In recent times, however, the Nursing and Midwifery Council has introduced French and sign language in the curriculum of nursing and midwifery training colleges, to aid service delivery. In their practice, health workers resort to the use of gestures, adhoc interpreters, among others,to interact with patients with whom they do not share a common language. However, these approaches do not appear effective since these interpreters are mostly not trained or regulated. As a country with a deaf population of 211,712 (Ghana Statistical Service, 2012), the Ghanaian health sector is struggling to meet the growing demands of its population linguistically diverse. According to the Linguistics Professor, policies must be enacted to meet such demands.



In governance, the executive, judiciary, and legislature all make use of English language in their official business and correspondence. The judiciary for instance, lacks standard interpretating services for citizens who cannot speak nor understand English as used in the court. In cases where interpreters exist, they lack training and regulation. This according to the Pro Vice-Chancellor (ASA) “hampers the effectiveness of providing justice for all, as a fundamental human right of the individual”. In the case of the legislature, the Standing Orders of the House (Order 47, 1992 Constitution, p.74) allows for local languages to be used. It states that “the proceedings of Parliament shall ordinarily be conducted in the English language, except that a member may exercise the option to address the House in Akan, Nzema, Ga, Ewe, Hausa, Dagbani, Dagaare, or in any other local language…” However, Order 47 imposes some restriction by saying “…provided facilities exist in the House for its interpretation.” Prof. Amfo therefore questioned why for almost thirty (30) years the needed facilities have not been put in place to ensure the effective use of local language(s) in parliament.


Corporate Institutions & The Media

Language of interaction within the corporate space is English. However, local languages are used with customers who are not highly proficient in English. Also, in the media space, both English and local languages are used. Part of the traditional media (radio and TV) and the new media (social media) use both English and local languages. The print media however is purely anglocentric. In addition, Pidgin English is used in the corporate and the media spaces as well. It is commonly used among male colleagues in offices. Basically, it is used as an in-group language in such professional spaces to bridge ethnic differences and generally to show solidarity.

Prof. Nana Aba Appiah Amfo therefore encouraged a systematic assessment of the language situation in the delivery of public services since the issues tend to be more complex than it usually appears. According to her, “a monolingual policy (anglonomitivity) does not yield optimal results.