Yes, Yes, Yes.
I should be ashamed with of myself. How can I call myself an African? How can I only speak English when I was born and raised here? The standard African can at least speak one vernacular in addition to English. How do I speak to my grandparents? What is wrong with me?
This series of questions and phrases have haunted me for the better part of my life. It used to make me so mad. Every time it happened the world around me would go silent and I would hear a slight ringing in my ears. My head would get hot and it took every fiber of my being to contain my anger. It was an insecurity, one of two, that was just there for anyone to peck at and make me feel even worse. One day I decided to assess my life and find out why I never learned and retained a vernacular (I did learn Ndebele once upon a time). Why is English my first and only language?
The first question I asked myself was, why WOULD I learn another language?
Well to speak to people.
There’s the source of the problem. I really didn’t have access to people.
Where was I going to meet people?
I was kept in the house by Grandma and Mah to keep me safe from TheSpermDonor (BioDad). For the most part it was just family and they generally spoke English to me and my sister. And when outsiders come into the picture, where do you start explaining the drama that was our life?
Secondly, I am a second generation immigrant (Well, first depending on what perspective you look at my family, BioDad:part deux). It’s not something we Africans consider especially since my G/rents migrated from one African country to another. But it was something I realised after I read a BuzzFeed article, ‘19 Struggles only first generation kids know‘. It may be about the American experience, but I know most of those struggles well but no one’s life ever mimics a Buzzfeed listicle in it’s entirety. There are always exceptions and complications. I mean instead of having to know one native language, I have 4 (or is it 5) and at least two vernaculars.
Something else I thought about was how I went to private schools where speaking vernacular was an offense. If you were caught, you were punished. I’m stickler for rules… Well, at least I was, and you would never have caught me dead breaking them.
Another thing no one really talks about but is very alive is the sense that English is superior. As an overthinker, a predominant trait is being observant; looking, gathering information, assessing and then acting accordingly. There were always snide remarks about how people spoke, mocking people who were perceived as stupid or backwards because their English was broken or they just couldn’t speak it. There is a totem pole and black always seems to be at the bottom. And while I am not proud of it, I bought into it.
The last reason is because I hate failing. Even when I learned English I didn’t go: “mama”, “dada”, “no”, and slowly progressed. I was super quiet, which worried the family, for several years absorbing information then I just started talking and having full conversations. I hate not being perfect. It’s a problem, and I am begrudgingly learning that I can never be perfect. But learning languages isn’t binary, it’s a process with lots of failure and being laughed at for it.
So that’s why I only speak English, I am a second (sigh.. or was it first?) generation immigrant who didn’t leave the house for a legitimate concern of being abducted, who lives in a country (world) that values English (whiteness) more than other cultures.
Now I had done my analysis. I had pinpointed the source of the problem.
What was I to do with it?
This was a year ago. Currently, I am
trying learning new languages. My goal is to speak 13, after all Grandma knows nine and I should aim to do better than her.
But instead of just speaking African languages, I want to know a minimum of 3 languages from every continent. I want to go to every part of the world and be able to speak to at least one of the local ethnic groups there.
So in my efforts to outdo Grandma, I tried to get into a Xhosa class at varsity last June, but they never responded so I settled for Mandarin instead. This year, I downloaded Duolingo (which I highly recommend) to learn a little German, Spanish, and Portuguese.
Now, my focus has shifted to Bemba and I plan on familiarising myself with one of my mother tongues later this year. The main thing I have to remember is it’s a lifelong goal, not an overnight fix. It will take some time and work but I need to remember that failing is part of the process.
Guten tag. – German
Wǒ jiào OBW. Wǒ shì engineer. – Mandarin
Eu sou uma mulher negra e me gusta púrpura. – Portuguese
Je parle six langues, un pue. – French
Quiero a un novio pero estoy feliz sin. – Spanish
Shi lande fye bwino, buti nde sambilila. – Bemba
Edited by TheWalkingWeave
* Pictures from Google Search