[As the title suggests, I wrote this ages ago. September 2015. And it’s not a very nice post. But I’m in the process of general release and so here we go. I’m not a very nice person, so why pretend on my blog? Another Language Rant, here we go!]
It’s quite depressing how frequently I lose faith in those who apparently share my heritage. But if I disown every national identity on this planet and choose to be a citizen of Neptune, y’all gon’ call me unpatriotic. And yet, at this point, I’m not seeing the essence of patriotism in the first place. Also, I can bet I’m not the only one who has been rejected time and time again by the people who are meant to be my kin – in which case, I am unable to see any logic in them getting pissed off. After all, if you reject your children, why on earth should you get mad if they disown you?
Recently, I went on two “Geography trips” to East Legon, Labone and Sakumono to conduct a questionnaire for an IA (Google it. I’m not about to explain the whole IB programme) about the status of women and fertility. So, of course, our subjects were limited to women. Now, important point to note: if there are any people who are particularly unpleasant to engage with, in Ghana, it’s the women. Try to argue, I won’t mind you.
Now, I’ve spoken about the whole Ghanaian languages thing pissing me off on multiple occasions. But I realize that sometimes, even this is a part of a greater problem: an attitudinal problem. The thing is, in general, too many people are not nice. in fact, they are unnecessarily nasty.
People, for example, who are perfectly capable of understanding English, interrupt even our introduction of ourselves to rudely (emphasis on RUDELY) tell us to stop with our abrofos3m and speak Twi – with a “mtchew” and a roll of the eyes. Are you understanding the picture here? You’re either a street vendor or an outdoor hair dresser, being approached by a pair or trio of students who politely greet you and begin to introduce themselves, and before even 3 sentences are complete, you rudely brush their request aside with a culturally rude gesture, and demand they speak Twi – without, I may add, paying a little consideration to the nationalities or ethnicity or the kind of education the students have received or where they have lived their whole life – or the fact that we are all at that moment situated in the geographical Ga capital of the country.
But that’s alright. Even so, we may continue, right? Sure, assume that everyone with black sin is Ghanaian. Then assume every Ghanaian must speak the language that you speak. Of course they can’t be expected to know that That Place is a Pan-African school, with about 17 countries of Africa being represented. Invalid assumptions are perfectly acceptable, or? Okay. Moving on…
So, during the questioning, as we try our best to translate the questions that are naturally pretty difficult to translate, they launch straight into a series of commands and insults about the Twi that we are trying to speak. When they aren’t telling us that our Twi is nasty or something along those lines, they are telling us to go away to learn the language, whether or not it is our language. If there’s anything I can recall from my life so far, even the process of learning is hard, because the very people who may know the language well enough to teach it are the same ones who are going to laugh at and mock you for not knowing it, which is pretty ineffective teaching, if I may say.
Imagine walking into a classroom to learn something you don’t know by a teacher whose job it is to impart knowledge. Then the teacher walks in for the first time and upon realizing that they do not know everything they came to learn before they were taught it, gets boiling mad. He then starts berating all the people he was meant to teach for being “stupid” and not bearing the knowledge they came to acquire.
Now, dear reader, if you speak Twi, kindly translate this question in less than 5 seconds for me: “Do you believe that your religion/faith has, in any way, affected the number of children you would like to have?” And that wasn’t even close to the most complicated question.
- Validity of the chosen language. When we begin by speaking the official language of Ghana, whether or not it was a result of cultural imperialism, what qualifies you to choose Twi, in discourse with people whose backgrounds you don’t know? And when a person attempting some pretty sufficient Twi fully confesses that he is, in fact, Ewe, how do you insist that whatever the case, he better go and learn TWI – a command given in the style of a threat? Additionally, as we are in Accra and NOT in the Ashanti region, what makes you think that you, as an ethnic migrant, have a right to exist in that space without knowing how to speak Ga? It may be a part of your country, but even so, it is not your region – just like it’s not my Ewe friend’s region. Please leave him alone.
- The unexplained initial rudeness would seem almost like a defence mechanism. Do you, dear roadside hairdresser, feel threatened by the language that we speak so much that you would reject it before you hear what we want to say? Would you rather then switch to a language you would so happily love to believe we are uncomfortable in, to inflate the ego that was deflated the second it felt intimidated by teenagers that have already achieved higher levels of education than you hoped to in your lifetime? Is jealousy the root of your nasty behaviour? I assure you we did not show up to intimidate you with wanna bl3. We’re just tryna graduate, I swear.
- Even if, by any chance, you are genuinely saddened by the depreciation of our local languages, does it, first of all, make sense to disregard other people’s languages as well? Case in point: the group of women who ignored the fact that my friend was from a place where his local language was Ewe. Aside from that, if your desire for the language to be learnt is so bad, is insulting the attempt the way to encourage it? Feel free to refer to the teacher scenario I illustrated previously. I refuse to understand how it does not enter the heads of these Ghanaians (and I use this word in the most derogatory way possible, because I don’t feel like writing actual insults right now, as they will be merciless if I do) that their baseless mocks and taunts draw people away rather than closer. Go ahead and sit there wondering why some of your best minds choose to flee to other places, without paying mind to how YOU ejected them.
- Most of the time, it’s even the lower class who are far more reasonlessly nasty than the higher class. When you see people using their language against others, be it gossiping about them while they get their hair done, or directly taunting others when they try to ask them a question, they’re usually not in offices behind desks or in Land Rovers or checking out money at the ATMs. They’re on the streets, sitting under umbrellas selling credit or vegetables, or in kiosks made of the women-who-do-sit-in-Land-Rovers’ car shipment containers (HA!). But I apologize for being ignorant. Obviously your spite for my inadequacy is going to push me to become a better woman, like you. Thanks for being a paragon of excellence for me. I’ll drop out of school, move to a village, and then come back to Accra with full knowledge of my language, which I shall then use to be bitter and insult fellow Ghanaians who know it less. Just like you and your inspirational self. ❤
- When you witness someone trying their best at something (you can help them with), your response should not be to tear down all that they have already built; it should be to offer a helping hand up the ladder. At least they have enough courage to step onto some rungs; help them with their elevation! But you, you choose to shove them to the ground. Very nice.
- No matter how uneducated you are, it is not an excuse for nastiness. So I, personally cannot understand why even lower class women should get like this. Sigh. I’m even unable to describe the levels of rudeness. But the point is, politeness/niceness is not something that should be taught in the classroom. It should be part of you, as a human. It should be something that is culturally passed down. I am genuinely wondering if culturally, we indeed encourage Crab (Pull-Him-Down) Syndrome instead of encouragement; if we teach disdain instead of recognition of effort.
- Yes, occasionally, they tend to blame my school for teaching me English – ignoring the fact that English is an international language and Twi is not. And that isn’t just because it’s African. Swahili is also an international language. Twi is not. It’s not like Twi doesn’t have a chance to spread too. Slave trade, Jamaica, Western immigration, intermarriage, everything. But whose fault could that be but the people who own the language? We are (through ways I outlined in a very popular previous post) not making the language attractive on its own. Even if we did learn it, who would we speak it with? The people who don’t know how to be nice? We can’t even make our local languages local, how much more do we make them international? M’abr3.
Perhaps I’m done with the list. Perhaps. I shall end with a comparative testimony.
Back in about 2010 or 2011, when I started learning Mandarin, I was always looking for people to practice my novice Chinese on. Even though my teachers were 100% Chinese, I wanted to have conversations outside the context of a paid-for learning environment. So, what I did was, I began to stalk (in a very friendly way) Chinese people. It wasn’t hard; they were and are basically everywhere. Accra Mall was one of my most fruitful spots. Other choice options were on the streets at hotels, at airports…you get it.
My point is, each time I struck up a conversation with a Chinese person, they would be so willing and eager to carry it out, and with such enthusiasm! I have never once been berated by a Chinese person for any mispronunciations or whatever. Whenever I made a mistake, they would smile and happily correct me. When they saw me struggling, they would kindly offer suggestive words. My interactive skills improved so much. One time, I went to a Chinese restaurant and legit held an hour-long conversation in Mandarin. I CAN’T DO THAT WITH ANY OTHER LANGUAGE. (What if it’s all part of their plan to take over the world though?)
If I, however, had to throw a guess, I would speculate that if Ghanaians witnessed any obroni try to talk to them in Twi, they would promptly either excitedly call their friends to come quickly to watch this entertaining episode of white-man struggle and start mocking his efforts the second he was out of hearing range. Perhaps it’s a mean speculation, but, based on previous experiences, this is only what my mind is able to come up with. All I know is, if Ghanaians had ever had the same reactions to me (or any of my Ghanaian classmates as deficient or worse than me), we probably wouldn’t be as deficient.
There is, of course, probably also a fault in the technique that Ghanaians teach with. I learnt both Twi and French from Ghanaians (and sometimes Togolese) in classrooms for SO MANY YEARS and I still suck at both – especially French, which I’ve been learning for like 10 years now (!!!!). (I can speak Twi. But I can only really fluently say the kind of things that I only need to say in the context of my house, because I only speak it with my mother.) And by the second year of my non-exam-oriented lessons in Mandarin, I was holding Chinese as my second best language. Something is so obviously wrong with something.