I was born in the late 70s and back then it wasn’t cool to be African. Although my parents spoke their language in the home, they didn’t speak it to me or my sisters except when my mum was angry and cussing us out for doing something wrong. In my household we speak Twi (spoken by the Ashanti’s), it is part of the Akan family (there are a lot of versions and still learning the different types still).
I learned the language by hanging around my dad and his friends, and piecing things together until I started to hear full conversations. My motivation, I could always tell when smother was talking about me but never knew exactly what she was saying and I just wanted to know.
Learning to hear the language was quite easy, but speaking it was always the problem. With my cockney accent and no one to speak it with me, it was always going to come out a bit funny. It is coherent but you can tell that obroni ‘ka twi. At the age of 40 (yes, I have finally said goodbye to my 30’s), I am at a stage where I don’t really care what you think of my ability to speak the language, if I feel like speaking it, I will.
It’s quite funny because when anyone asks me now, they say with pride that yes, I can understand and speak it, my sisters on the hand. They look confused and say, “ahh, I don’t know why”. I can’t say anything but in my head I think “crock of sh***”, but I too smile and shrug my shoulders.
As a British born Ghanaian understand why my younger and older counterparts are reluctant to speak it, in my younger days I was that person. In fact there are quite a few reasons. Now it is cool to be Ghanaian, hey there’s a lot more of us in the new millennium then there was 40 years ago, plus a lot more non-Ghanaians are travelling to Ghana so learning the language is not something that we don’t want to do.
The first reason is, just like French, Spanish and all the other languages out there, unless you have someone to speak it with, how are you going to get it. Even now, it is only due to living in Ghana for all those years that my vocabulary has become advanced as it is (in England, the language is a kind of hybrid of twi and English but going to somewhere such as Kumasi you get to hear the language in its purest form). I remember when I was about 10, I had just come back from Ghana for the first time and I was just so excited that I had learnt all these new words. I told my dad that I wasn’t going to speak English at home anymore. My dad laughed, and whenever I attempted to speak twi, he would answer back in English. Smother, well she was told me why I am I bothering myself. So in the end I gave up.
The other reason, and even now I get it, but as I said, care not. I’ve experienced it and seen it done to others, when those that know better end up laughing and saying “oh look at the British trying to speak Twi”. It really used to bother me especially when the provider of the mockery is someone old enough better.
The other day, a 50 year old preacher man laughed at me because I pronounced something wrong (if you don’t get the tone right, you may say something which has a completely different meaning). I had to tell him off, that at least I am trying, I didn’t get angry but did have to put him straight. Now this man, well a typical Ashanti man and you know about them getting their R’s and their L’s the wrong way round. This is a man who spent the whole of sermon pronouncing Goliath as Goreeath. Did I laugh? Do I laugh when someone pronounces a blender as a Brenda? Do I laugh when asked if I would like to watch the Terry? Finally when someone says that something is “grolious”, I know they mean glorious.
So to you who wander why it seems we are too shy or don’t want to understand/speak the language this is most likely why. To those who mock those of us trying, all I can say is people in glass houses.
Try communicating an oral language with today’s literal tools. The first problem is the character input (aka keyboard). By coincidence, have just installed IPA fonts to enable use of African alphabet. Why not join diaspora, search ‘ghana’ and start typing away in twi? 🙂