Native language: keeping it alive in diaspora

Not being able to speak your native language can become a barrier to communication. Have you ever met someone from your country and the first thing they tell you before starting a conversation is that they can only speak English/French/Italian etc? Sometimes it goes on with the famous quote ‘I understand but can’t speak it’. Well, I was one of those people and the phrase  ‘I can only speak Italian’ was my motto every time a Ghanaian auntie was about to approach me and ask me a bunch of questions in twi ( a Ghanaian language). Until this day I remember going back to Ghana at the age of 4 and my parents communicating with me only in ‘broken’ Italian. My family members back home were fascinated by my parent’s ability ( in their eyes) to speak the language but I’m sure they were also questioning the reasons why they didn’t speak twi to me.

Unfortunately, this is a common reality for people born in the diaspora and in my opinion,  some parents decide not to speak their language to their children because they don’t want them to face the same challenges they faced due to language barrier. Also, some people become defensive every-time they are approached in a language that they are not fluent in and I can relate to that. I know someone that even said that English is a universal language so why bother learning their native language as it won’t take them anywhere apart from a little village back in Africa in the middle of nowhere (Seriously, some of us are that deeply brainwashed).

Moreover, I’m sure most people will agree with me,  as Africans we sometimes tend to place someone’s  level of intelligence based on their ability to speak English or any other colonial language. However, why (for the most part) this is not the case for people from Asian countries? I’m sure that we all have seen our Chinese or Indian friend at school quickly switching to their native language every-time they saw their parents,no matter their age nor where they were born.



In addition,sometimes people decide not to bother speaking  their original language because they know their accent will be mocked, but I think we shouldn’t let that stop us.I remember my sister laughing at my twi accent all day everyday up to the point my only option was to master my pronunciation skills and prove her wrong. Im glad I did it because can you imagine going on holiday in your country and you can’t speak or understand the language?  In Ghana some people can take advantage of this  :). For example, when you purchase a product you can be charged double the original price because they know in the first place that you won’t be able to question them about it.

Here are some interesting points about language in relation to living in the diaspora that you should know: 

1 ❝ If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart❞ By Nelson Mandela.

2 “Language is the archive of history” By Ralph Waldo Emerson. Therefore you’ll be able to pass it on to your kids and generations to come will know where they come from.

3 If you can’t speak your language this will eventually DIE (bitter truth). For this reason, even if you are going to be mocked due to your accent don’t let that discourage you. It’s a benefit in the long run you’ll keep it ALIVE 😉

4 Language is not just a form of communication but is your identity. If you have a British identity card you,you were born in Britain and can only speak English, the moment you find yourself in a room where everyone speaks only your native language for example twi, you’ll still feel a sense of belonging somewhere. However, if you are in a room with people that can only speak  English (for example) and they don’t look like you, indirectly you’ll feel as if you don’t belong even though the only language you can speak is English.I’m sure some of you can relate to that weird feeling.



4 Sometimes in an emergency situation, having the capability to speak your native language can be a life-saver, because you’ll minimize communication barriers and possible life complications. Personally, I’ve been in unexpected situations where I’ve had to help people understand a medical diagnosis or explain in depth details that may have been lost in incorrect translation if  the person’s translating was not a fluent native speaker of that language.

5 If you are unemployed or want to earn a bit of extra cash on the side, you’ll be able to find ( DEPENDING ON WHERE YOU LIVE) translation jobs online, which means you are helping the community you live in and at the same time helping yourself. PLUS some of these jobs can pay above the minimum wage but the only downside to this is that they are sometimes only casual jobs (I was surprised to find an English/twi and English/Italian translating job at the hospital and for every half an hour worked I used to get paid £ 20. I know crazy to believe ).

6 Think about African-American’s historythanks to advancements in DNA studies, people are now able to trace their African roots, but when it comes to selecting one country of origin this is not possible because as humans our DNA is a mixture of different genetic information. Down to generations, there will be the preservation of some aspects of  African culture such as the ability to braid hair a certain way for example; but when it comes to language preservation, unless you decide to relocate to one specific country and are willing to learn it, IT cannot be preserved.

Therefore, if you have the privilege to  learn from someone in your family take advantage of the situation and ask them to teach you because you may never know when that skill may become useful. Remember we live in a multicultural society and if you have the privilege to learn something new, English is not the only ‘valuable’ language you should know, contrary to what some people think (in my opinion).


Source of images: Google

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