There is a bubble we speakers of the English language live in I am about to burst with my pen, or keypad in this case. I remember an incident that occurred when I was much younger. We were watching The Miss World pageant in our living room, the one that Agbani Darego won, and a couple of other guests were with us that night. There was one of the beauty queens who was trying to answer her question but needed it to be translated first because she wasn’t from an English speaking country. And I remember one of our guests that day made a comment and said
“How can a pretty girl like this not know how to speak simple English?”
Her comment went on to start a discussion about how disappointing it was that she needed a translator. Their horror escalated of course when many more girls in the course of the show needed a translator. I remember being there that day thinking “How can they understand English though?” Do we understand their own language?
I have seen this happen time and time again, especially on social media. People take jabs at non English speakers and write appalling memes and captions in the name of being humorous and wanting likes.
It is as though one is unintelligent if they can’t convey words or thoughts in English, such that, non English speakers sometimes have to beg our forgiveness for not being able to speak English before they can add to discussion. And you can’t miss the pity in the tone of the English speaker, who is ever so quick to feel terribly sorry for you.
Oh you don’t speak English? Let me break it down for you, you dumbhead
It is this unnecessary arrogance of sorts that befuddles me seeing that half the people who claim to be speakers of the simple English language don’t know when to use being or been. They are the ones who hardly know the difference between your and you’re, who don’t know when to use who and which, who make cringe worthy sentences like “I cannot be able to attend…” or, “should in case it rains…”
Should in case????
In my dad’s house a while back, we were watching T.V and there was a footballer speaking Portuguese, whose interview was subtitled in English. A friend of my dad who was present with us said – “This is my problem with some of these young boys, they don’t understand any English at all.”
I said to the man. “Well it remains your problem, because neither English nor Portuguese puts money in this guy’s account.”
There are over 5000 languages in the world, which means that people cannot be born and bred in Korea, or Brazil for instance, and you expect them to be able to converse in English just because…
It is an ill gotten sense of entitlement and privilege to feel that it is a problem for you if someone else doesn’t speak your English. Poking fun at people for not being able to speak English is the height of bullying if you ask me.
In Nigeria where I come from, I notice madams blaming the help for teaching their kids bad English. Helps who were in their villages jejely speaking their Yoruba or Efik before you brought them to the city and made laws like – Do not speak vernacular to my children! This writeup is not about helps, I digress, but can I quickly say that if you don’t want your child’s English speaking ruined then let your help speak to her or him in her own language. Instead of bullying your help to speak (bad) English by force, I’ll rather have the child learn another language than mess up the one he knows. As I stated earlier, I digress.
Last year I went to Ivory Coast. And at the airport there was this Nigerian woman who had just moved there with her family. We made small talk and I asked how her recent move had been seeing that she had children of school age. She went ahead to say it wasn’t bad at all, and that she had no major issues; she had found an International school her kids would resume in September. She had also found where to buy Nigerian ingredients for meals. There’s light and water too she quickly highlighted, and being Nigerian I understood.
“But their major problem is this their French everywhere. Ordinary price of fish they can’t even tell you in simple English.”
You see, if she had said “it is the language that is an issue for me…” it wouldn’t have been ok either, but it would have sounded better, less offensive. It would have meant that she was adjusting to life in a new country but had slight difficulty because of the language barrier. But she spoke as though it was the fault of the Ivorian’s for not being able to tell her the price of fish in English.
I didn’t realise when I blurted out “Go and learn French then.”
To which she replied that she was too old to learn a new language which I thought was an irony.
How dare you want someone to speak to you in your language but feel too old to learn their’s.
I was guilty of this but I have since repented. I remember when I first moved to Ghana and used to get upset when people automatically spoke Twi to me in the market because of course they assumed I understood, and then with a smug look I would say, English please and some women especially the older ones would look at me like, English for what? A few considerate ones would say the little they could just so they didn’t lose a potential customer. But then I thought to myself, these women don’t owe me any English. If I have to converse by sign language while I decide to learn Twi or find alternatives, then that’s what I’ll do. If they decide to learn English because there is an influx of English speakers in their community, then it is their prerogative. No one has any rights of language. No one’s language is more privileged. There are too many things that people suffer injustice from because of someone else’s sense of privilege or entitlement, and language shouldn’t be one of them.
Featured Photo from; blog.lionbridge.com