Last week, on 19 September 2017, I was honoured to be part of the launch of the 11th edition of The Spelling Bee, and had fun doing a reading of my piece “You Know You Are In Ghana When…”. Thanks for the opportunity, Eugenia Techie-Menson (aka Mawn Van Boven) and well done for the amazing experience: audience, ambience, content, speeches, performances, theme…
Yes, the theme. THE RELEVANCE OF THE MOTHER TONGUE IN LITERACY.
The thoughts shared, the documentary screened of young people who can’t speak in their mother tongue or in any other local language, the looming danger of our grandchildren not speaking any of our native languages because their parents — our children — cannot teach them because they cannot speak the languages themselves…I haven’t stopped thinking about it all.
My little girl is being taught Twi as a subject in school and, this week, she brought in homework, to list five local or indigenous games in which songs are sang. We had fun trying to remember some and took the fun a notch higher by calling my mum on phone, who excitedly gave us three types of games. As we tried to get one last one, Mama called back and said “Adonko koraa, nea ɔmo to wɔ TV so no, ɛno nsoso yɛ agorɔ ni bi!”
I could literally feel the joy oozing from her as she contributed to her grand-daughter and namesake’s homework.
At home, my wife and I communicate primarily in Twi, she speaks Fanti as well but my Fanti is terrible (apologies to my grandma Abokoma and the etsew I ate in Cape Coast for seven years on Menya Mewu Hills) and Ga, when we don’t want the children to understand what we are saying. Their nanny is Ewe but speaks Ga mostly so, in addition to what they have learnt in the Ga classes at school, Auntie Mary has taught them some Ga so these days they are able to follow our Ga convos. Perhaps it is time to learn Ewe? But I digress.
We have been lazy as parents in speaking directly to them in Twi or Fanti. Well, let’s say I have. Wife mine has done much better. My more positive action, perhaps, is taking them to Wasa at least once a year for the past eight or so years, so they can get immersed in the language and the customs of their people much more.
On our last visit, in August this year, one of my sons was annoyed when a relative, when he responded in English whilst she spoke Twi to him, retorted “Ka Twi!” I explained that he understood but, perhaps, is also afraid of his accent.
Yes, so though they understand the language fairly, they speak it not like I do. So there is surely a gap, and I was rudely nudged into revitalised action during the launch of The Bee.
I have started speaking more of Twi now with the children, directly.
I don’t want them, or their children — my grandchildren — to be what the Country Director of Young Educators Foundation (who run The Spelling Bee), Eugenia Techie-Menson calls ‘mono-linguals’. They will not be so, not under my watch.
Will your grandchildren speak your language?
Nsempiisms. My mouth has fallen.