DISCLAIMER: the paradox of this article is that it is written in English, rightly so, as it reflects the flaw in our society that I am about to go on a rant about.
Of the many ideals or social constructs I have had to negotiate my identity around, language definitely tops the list. I am a Ndebele woman who was brought up speaking isiZulu.
I glorified English, and for the longest time I was convinced that speaking English and adding that nasal twang was the true mark of intelligence.
This would be validated when my grandmother would beam with pride as she introduced her grandchildren to her friends.
This would be done with her probing all the English out of us.
Picture this. We are a group of kids in Sunday school responding to a Bible parable the teacher has just read to us.
“What have you learnt?” asks the teacher. We take turns answering, everyone in English, and others not as fluently (for which they are mocked), but English nonetheless.
This still baffles me that in a setting with African facilitators and children, where the use of indigenous languages was allowed, children had to work so hard at perfecting an “English” accent.
It is this kind of glorification of English that deems African languages inadequate, and worse, it suggests that the improper pronunciation of English words is the proverbial sin.
Hamba uyofuna ushintshi eskolweni sakho (go ask your school for a refund), were the words from family members when I had pronounced an English word incorrectly.
I loathed the way that made me feel, that I was not teachable, not able to grasp the English accent of my teachers.
That was the beginning of the process of making me speak exclusively in English. Regrettably, that left very little space for isiNdebele and isiZulu.
I have yearned to express myself in my mother tongue on so many instances, but the English language has been able to create such a power structure that the use of indigenous languages is frowned upon in certain spaces.
“You better speak that language off the school premises, this is an English medium school,” was one of the scolds from our teachers that we used to woefully abide by– even at break time.
The draining task of decomposing my mother tongue in order to make a point in English and have my voice heard has proven to be the order of my days.
It is imperative that we reject the psychological ingraining that perfect English is an accessory you dare not leave the house without.
An ideal world is one where everyone makes the effort to learn multiple languages, instead of Africans being the ones that always make allowances to accommodate others.
I am now more interested in learning the languages of my people.
That means making a concerted effort to pick up more books written in African languages and speaking different languages in my everyday interactions.
There is so much liberation in fluidly changing from one language to another.
I have found many versions of myself in the process and I have opened myself up to a much wider experience of the world.
I am able to forgive myself and others whose tongues slip as they speak.
I am here to support the sentiments of a writer who said African people do not owe anyone perfect English.