Hello, Colonialism is Over!

In celebration of mother tongue, I dusted this old article from the archives:

I’m peeved. More than slightly. Africans, when will you stop this nonsensical self-imposed colonialism?

During my tenure as International Specialist for the U.S. Foreign Agricultural Service, some American teachers and I visited an elemenatary school in Ghana. I was appalled to learn that new students, we’re talking six-year olds, had to be able to communicate well in English before being accepted into a good school. The result of this stupid practice is that the younger generation can’t speak their native language anymore. Parents want to get their children into the best schools, so right from birth, they speak English to them. This is wrong on many levels.

One of the fallacies of education is that a child will get confused learning two or three languages a time. While it is true that children mix up languages when learning more than one at a time, they learn to sort them out by the time they are five or even earlier. At four years old, I spoke Yoruba, Twi and English. By fourteen, I could speak French, two additional Twi dialects and Ga.

Okay, I’m peeved. More than slightly. Ghanaians, when will you stop this nonsensical self-imposed colonialism???!!!

During my tenure as International Specialist for the U.S. Foreign Agricultural Service, some American teachers and I visited an elemenatary school in Ghana. I was appalled to learn that new students, we’re talking six-year olds, had to be able to communicate well in English before being accepted into a good school – Ghanaians parents choose schools for their children. The result of this stupid practice is that the younger generation can’t speak their native language anymore. Parents want to get their children into the best schools, so right from birth, they speak English to them. This is wrong on many levels.

One of the fallacies of education is that a child will get confused learning two or three languages a time. Because I bought into it, my American-born children couldn’t speak Fanti, my native language, for many years. Even now, they speak it poorly. While it is true that children mix up languages when learning more than one at a time, they learn to sort them out by the time they are five or even earlier. At four years old, I spoke Yoruba, Ashanti Twi and English. By fourteen, I could speak French, two additional Twi dialects and Ga. Children whose parents speak their native language to grow up bilingual. My friends’ children are examples. A native Czech spoke Czech to her kids; now the children are bilingual and have excelled at school. One graduated from Georgetown University and another from Boston University. A Ghanaian spoke Fanti to her children. They grew up speaking English and Fanti, and have done exceedingly well. These are children growing up in America. So why is that those growing up in Africa can’t speak their own language? What a travesty!

What is even more troubling is that some of these parents can’t speak English well. I”m talking about those who didn’t even make it to high school, who speak a halting English with faulty vocabulary. They raise children who say things like “No, he have came and took my book.” This actually makes the teacher s’ job harder. It’s like trying to mold cement after it has hardened. Even when children master the colonial language, they can’t have meaningful conversation with parents who can’t speak English or French or Portuguese well. There’s nothing sadder than not being able to have deep conversations or share jokes with one’s parents. Africans. are humorous and use lots of proverbs in their language. A lot of meaning is lost in translation. Children who can’t communicate with their parents end up despising them, which leads to conflict. Even sadder than that is the loss of culture, something parents pass on to their children. For instance, Ghanaians have a rich culture, from the naming ceremony when a child is born, the outdooring at three months when the child is celebrated in the community and so on. How are these going to be passed on?

It is important to know one’s language well. Language defines a people, whether you’re American or Nigerian or Chinese. People need to have a good understanding of their culture so they can cut out what is unwholesome while embracing newer ideas. That’s how we grow as human beings. So people, stop demanding a colonial language before enrolling little kids. Stop teaching your children that their language is inferior and hence their culture is inferior. Colonialism is over

Bisi Adjapon is the author of Of Women and Frogs, named top 15 books 2018. She has written for McSweneys, Washington Times. Brittle Paper and other journals

Bisi Adjapon is the author of Of Women and Frogs, named top 15 books 2018. She has written for McSweneys, Washington Times. Brittle Paper and other journals