Nigeria, despite her many challenges, parades incredible talents in all spheres of life. One of the shining lights is Adedeji Odulesi, a Warri born son of an Ijebu man, who mesmerizes his audience with eight languages at corporate events as Master of Ceremonies.
His vast knowledge of languages and cultures helps him pronounce names most appropriately to give everyone, irrespective of ethnic background, a great sense of belonging. He is endowed with good command of British English, Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba (Ijebu dialect inclusive) French, German, and Spanish languages.
The linguist, master of ceremonies extraordinaire, and Church minister tells his story in this interview with P.M.NEWS’ TAIWO OKANLAWON AND MICHEAL ADESINA.
How has 2019 been so far for you?
2019 has been fantastic for me as a person, career wise because, I have been an MC since 2006 really. Recognition of what I do began in 2019.
Odulesi entertaining guests at a public function.
How did you discover that this is what you want to do?
I am very passionate about learning languages. So in 2006, someone wanted to wed, so they asked me to come and anchor it. I said no, I don’t know how to really anchor an event but they said no I must do it for them, anyhow I do it. So I went ahead with trepidation and I did it. Even though, I didn’t know the rules of anchoring, I just did whatever I taught I saw people do in wedding and I gave the language flair. That time I could speak Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, French and English, and in the hall, people began to clap and clap and that gave me a motivation. So I thought is like I can do this thing, it’s like people like this thing. Right from there people started to book me for events, but it was free and I was too glad too. That was how I started.
Who is Adedeji Odulesi?
Adedeji Odulesi is a hundred percent Yoruba man by birth, Ijebu to be precise, my dad is from Iperu in Ogun State while my mum is from Poka in Lagos State.
Odulesi with the Minister of State, Niger Delta, Barrister Festus Keyamo at a public event.
Can you take us through the journey of how you became a Polyglot?
I was born in Warri, Delta State and I did my primary school there. Warri is a town where you have so many nationalities, you have Isoko, Itshekiri, Ijaw, Urobo. Then the variances of Ibo like Kwalian as other Nigerians that are all there. So what I could just pick there was Pidgin English but we have Ibo neighbours and they used to abuse me using their language like Onyeosi, Onyeara but I could not understand beyond that. So, there was that early childhood desire to know what other things they were saying about me. That was how I had desire to learn Igbo but I learnt Pidgin there, I learnt normal English and I learnt. My father was a civil servant in Warri, working as a teacher at Federal Government College, Warri. Eventually, he was transferred from there to Sokoto State. At Sokoto, I now made Hausa people my friends intentionally to learn the Hausa language and I enjoyed leaning the language. Actually, the Hausa language is a very simple language to learn and the people too would want to teach you the language, so I quickly learnt the language.
I was in the North for ten years. All of my primary four to six and JSS1 to SS3 years were in the North. Then I came back to the North for my Youth Service in Kaduna. Nine years in Sokoto and one year in Kaduna. So I was able to, more or less, perfect the Hausa language. I went to Federal Government Sokoto for my Secondary school, while I was there, we did French in Junior class and in JSS3, I was like the best student in French but you know those childhood dreams of I want to be a doctor, I want to be engineer and so on, I went to Science class and I did Further Mathematics. So I couldn’t do French because there are some subjects you must combine together, so I had to drop French, it was painful. The pride of ‘I am a Further Mathematician’ robbed me of learning French in Secondary school.
At that point, my parents had been transferred to the East, Owerri to be precise. So I joined them after finishing Secondary school in 1991. There, I started learning the Igbo language. I knew I had a short time because the plan was to study Agriculture in the West. So after Secondary school, I was thinking of becoming a medical doctor. So, I was taking JAMBs but could not meet up with cut off marks. Hence, I just aligned myself to my passion which is Agriculture. I like Agriculture, so I choose the course.
While I was in the East, I stayed at home to learn and attend prep courses to prepare for JAMB. So, I didn’t really have the opportunity of mixing much with Igbo people but what I did was that, the church I attended they do interpretation there, so I when go to church, I go with an Igbo Bible and when they are reading in English, I am reading in Igbo even when I don’t understand, eventually when the interpreter reads, I would understand better. So I was doing that for about two to three years in the East. It was like I was in a language class and I also listen to radio a lot while I was in the East. There was Ibo Broadcasting Cooperation which had a lot of good music that I could flow with, so with that I was able to get the basics of Ibo language. From there I got admission into the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta in 1992. I have passion for Agriculture and that is why I went there.
So while I was in university, I picked up the French again. I ran into a friend whose uncle came back from abroad and came with cassette and book in French and German. I heard the German was a difficult language, so I put it aside and faced French. The book is titled ‘French in Three Months’. I copied the cassette and book and I started to use it. It was a fantastic experience for me and the secret was to do thirty minutes every day. There were some foreign students I interacted with too and before I left the school, the school had recognized somebody who could speak French and started using me for school activities when they had international programs and things like that. So I graduated as the best graduating student in General Studies and you know GNS is Art. When I go to library to read, I read about different cultures in the world and I was very good and came out as the best student in General Studies with my passion for Agriculture and up till date I still practice my Agriculture but the language side has kept coming up.
So, by 2006 people saw in me somebody with qualities of an MC but I never saw myself, and when I was invited for that wedding, it was fantastic. Thereafter, I started getting invitations which I was attending for free before people started giving me two thousand naira, and two thousand naira meant a lot to me then, later it was increased to five thousand naira.
How many languages do you speak at the moment?
Right now I speak the three major languages in Nigeria, Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba. Then I speak English naturally. If you count Pidgin, because it’s a language, at BBC, there is a station for Pidgin entirely. They pay people to broadcast in Pidgin. Then I do speak French, German and Spanish. That’s eight languages and of course I understand my local dialect too which is Ijebu.
Adedeji Odulesi in BBC
How did you later learn German and Spanish?
For German, in 2016, an organization called me to come and anchor an event for them at Ilorin, so I went there and still did the language stuff and people were fascinated. Then, somebody walked up to me and spoke German to me and I didn’t understand anything but I felt that the language looks a bit like English so I told the person that the next time we meet I will be speaking the language. So that 2016, I met a corps member who was attending GOETHE institute. She told me about the institute and by September 2016, I started attending afternoon and evening classes for German. When we finished the first three months I was the best in my class and I was offered a scholarship to proceed to the next level. Those exams are A1 and A2 Beginner, B1 and B2 Intermediate and C1 and C2 Advanced. So I did A1 on scholarship and somebody else took A2 and I now did B1 which means my German is at Intermediate level.
For Spanish, I didn’t really find any place to study. I study online and I have books. This one is called ‘Beginner Spanish’. I also learn by watching YouTube videos. Then, another secret of my learning is that I have a bible in every language that I speak. At any point in time I pick up any bible. So when I go to church, people are looking at me, you know at times, you look at the Bible in your friend’s hand and you don’t understand anything. So all those things helped me to improve on the languages.
Have you looked beyond MC, like going into academics?
Yes, it is really a futuristic plan because many people have approached me that I need to open an institution. I don’t really need to teach but I can get good hands and can easily monitor them because, I know what the language is all about.
Do you have relationship with others in the industry?
Sure, we must work hand in hand. If there is an evening program like a Gala Night, a comedian will be needed aside from the MC who will pilot the program to come and give five minutes jokes, we call them just like we will call cultural group to come and dance. So, there is a role for each person to play.
What would you say is the best part about being a Polyglot?
A Polyglot is someone who understands many languages, is that not so? So anywhere I go to, I find it easy to blend and to be spotted out because as I come across people, it may be by somebody’s intonation, I can easily tell, this person is an Ibo or this person is a Hausa. So the ability to interact is there, and then, it is very rewarding, people will want to relate with you because once you can speak someone’s language, the person will assume you are the same with him, so he accepts you. Hence, I have so many friends and have accessibility. I have eaten different kinds of foods and I have been to different places.
You have 8 languages at your disposal that you speak, which other languages are you planning to learning?
I am planning to learn Portuguese because it is very similar to Spanish, which means if a Portuguese is speaking I seem to get what they’re saying. It is just like someone speaking Egba and I am Ijebu, I seem to get what he’s saying. Then, I also want to learn Arabic and Swahili because they’re languages spoken in vast area in Africa. The whole of Eastern block of Africa speaks Swahili and the whole of the Northern block of Africa speaks Arabic, so those are the languages I want to learn and I like the way the languages sound too, It is not just that I want to learn them, there must be something that keys you to the language. A language might be spoken by the whole world and you don’t like the way it is spoken so you are not interested.
Do you have any one you can refer to as key influence to your success?
There is someone who has been very influential. Who has been like a mentor, a young man like me. Not that he makes me go to events, rather what he does is that anytime I have an event, I go to him that how do I anchor this kind of event and he says do it this way. So he’s been a generous mentor but a reserved person not wanting publicity. He is a senior colleague in the same industry.
What are those challenges you have faced?
You see, the languages themselves don’t come easy. Learning Hausa for instance, I found it so easy. Learning German for instance, I found it so difficult even though I was the best in the class and I got scholarship. I ran away from it at first but because of that challenge I got in 2016, I picked it up because I like challenges.
Another challenge is Spanish. I hardly come across a Spanish speaker in Nigeria, unlike French. I meet French people all around, you even come across it being spoken on radio. And for German, you don’t too often meet German speakers, but at least, you know that GOETHE institute is here and when you go there you see people speaking German. But Spanish, though a simple language and easy to learn, you hardly come across people to speak it to in Nigeria.
Then, another challenge is that people think those who speak many languages are 419.
So you’re a corporate MC and passionate about Agriculture. What else do you do?
Aside those two, I’m a minister, a pastor, a committed Christian and a gentleman (laugh).
Do your wife and children speak more than one language as well?
Interestingly, my wife is French teacher. We met basically via French learning. I went to a French speaking church. We had a French session, so I went there to improve my French and that’s where I met my wife. So we do French together. I also speak French and German with my two children, Chioma and Chinedu, at home, whether they understand or they don’t.
Why Ibo names?
Well, if you watch my video, I ended it by saying I am detribalized. It is another secret of learning languages. A real Polyglot is detribalized, he does not hate any tribe, and he does not claim any tribe. He relates freely with all cultures. He just happened to have been born in a particular culture. I could have even married an Ibo woman but I could not find but I married the one I saw that could also speak French. So I love the Ibos like I love the Hausas. So, my first child happens to be a girl and I named her Chioma Oluwademilade Odulesi and it’s in the birth certificate. She’s actually Jumaih in Hausa because she was born on Friday. She’s a complete Wazobia. My son is Adebola Chinedu Odulesi, the Chinedu is in the birth certificate too.
What advice do you have for this generation or people who also want to learn more languages?
Age is no barrier for learning a language, let that be gotten clear. It is how you plan your time and in fact as a mature adult, you have the ability to even learn better because there are gadgets all around you that you can use, YouTube, subtitle of movies. A child cannot do that. Why children learn fast is because they are unbiased and unashamed. Even the English they speak when they make mistake and you correct them they keep speaking it but we adults, we tend to be shy, if I make mistake people will laugh at me and you watch what you say. So age is not a barrier. There are many Apps you can download to learn the languages.
What I will say to this generation is that, parents in particular, open your minds, do not say because the child is learning Yoruba, his English will be affected, no, if he is learning Yoruba at home, his English will be better because the brain now has capacity to accept more, the brain is like boxes. So parents should encourage their children. And when they travel for vacation, why do you keep going to English speaking countries? Go to France, Belgium or Spain for vacations. You can even go to Togo, Benin here or even the North if you can’t afford to travel abroad.
So don’t be born in Oyo, primary school, Oyo, secondary school, Oyo, university, UI and get married there (laugh), they won’t even come to Lagos, everything about them is Oyo. So, broaden the mind, the mind has capacity to learn and then, it gives added advantage for employments.