Hmmmm, I have a bone to pick.
For the record, I am one of those Ghanaians who doesn’t speak their native language. A full-blooded Ghanaian. A Ghanaian with two full-blooded Ghanaian parents. A Ghanaian who spent at least a few years in Ghana. Okay? Let’s get all of that out of the way.
My entire memorable life, people have tried to make me feel so small for not being able to speak Twi. Forget the fact that I’m not Twi. I understand that as it is now, Twi is on the fast track to becoming the native language of choice for all Ghanaian people as much as some of those non-Twi ethnic groups really hate that idea. But stating that I’m Nzema doesn’t really help because I don’t speak Nzema either. But I’ve already decided that it is not for others to judge if I’m Ghanaian or not. I am.
I do not know if in my early childhood I spoke words of Nzema or of Twi or of any other Ghanaian language. I do know from what family members have told me in the past that I came back from Angola to Ghana at the age of 3 or so with some Portuguese words, some Angolan language words, all mixed up with whatever else I was babbling. I would assume therefore that there might have been emphasis to get those words out of my vocabulary and replace them with English. I assume that because when we moved to Germany when I was 6-7, I as the oldest went to English school in an attempt to keep my siblings, who went to more affordable German schools, speaking English in the household. And when we returned to Ghana when I was about 11, again the focus (at least on my siblings) was on perfecting the English for theirs were poor so people wouldn’t think we were some bush children.
How it is that I came to understand some words and some phrases (in context) of both Nzema and Twi I’m not sure. I would like to think it’s because way back then as a toddler/child somebody spoke to me in those languages. But maybe it’s because I’m such a good listener that sitting in in adult conversations where the language in use was either Nzema or Twi, I got to understand what was going on ...in context. After all, my younger siblings don’t understand a word of either language and we grew up around the same parents, the same group of parent friends and relatives.
I have always responded “I’m fine” when asked “Ɛti sen?” or “Wo ho ti sen?” or “Akpɔkε nu ε”?…the extent to which I remember being spoken to in Twi or Nzema save all the insults when we did something wrong. Speaking back in Nzema (or Twi) was not expected and frankly was not strictly enforced. So now, when I’m fully in my 30s and my parents try to hold full conversations in Nzema with me, as if that’s what they’ve always done, I don’t understand why they become frustrated when I don’t completely follow nor when I reply in English. But c’est la vie. It is what it is.
My beef though is not with my parents. Not at all…just yet. It is with all those other relatives who may not have had children yet when I was growing up. Or they may have had children within my age range. Those relatives and family friends who would tell my parents “Oh no, it’s not good that your children can’t speak Nzema (or Twi)…What a shame, no, no, no”. My beef is with my contemporaries. Those who made fun of me in JSS when I would always do poorly in Ghanaian language (taught from the viewpoint that one already knew how to speak it, and needed to learn how to read and write it grammatically).All those who laughed at my attempt, my accent, my intonation, whenever I tried to speak or read aloud. See, they wouldn’t have done that if I was a non-Ghanaian obroni. Those are allowed to butcher words in an attempt to learn a Ghanaian language.
Would you believe those same relatives, family friends, former class-mates now have children that don’t speak a lick of a native language or maybe at most understand one (..in context) like I did when I was a child. Seriously? Are you kidding me? Is this intentional? Is it actually cool or some kind of badge of honour to have children who don’t speak your language? Because you know, being that child in the ’80s and ’90s felt like bringing shame to one’s family, not being able to hold a conversation with one’s own grandparent was not the business, and I’m pretty sure it’s going to feel the same way for these children of the 21st century.