Speaking English in your home language


Why do we equate a person’s proficiency in English to their level of intelligence? In a country where there are more than 11 official languages, it’s weird how we’ve chosen English as the language to measure a person’s intelligence. Reality is that many South Africans replicate the grammar of their home language and translate it into English. When you hear a tannie say “That are true” or a magogo start a sentence with “Me I was…” it’s not because they’re stupid, it’s because they are trying to speak English but in their home language.

In fact, many schools that don’t use English as a first language teach the subject in the children’s home language. When you’re a baby you learn your home language without anybody translation. So when you teach a child that “Mina” means me and “ngi” means I, that’s how you wind up having what we call “broken English”. But it’s not that they suck at English, they are just applying the grammar of their home language to what they are translating. In isiZulu, you can start a sentence by saying “Mina ngi….” which would directly translate to “Me I…”.

Language as a measure of intellect

To measure a person’s intelligence by their proficiency in a language is inaccurate. I remember when I was growing up many of my aunts would assume I’m smarter than their kids only because I went to a city school and the way I spoke English was different. But my cousins and I could have debates all day in Setswana and I wouldn’t win all of them. They too were intelligent. They were just not as proficient in English.

Translation is a disadvantage

Learning a language through translation is actually a disadvantage. Ever wonder why most of us learn Afrikaans for 12 years of school yet we grow to become adults who barely know how to speak the language? That’s because we learned Afrikaans in English. The same phenomenon happens. You learn that a hond is a dog. It was always hilarious watching peers trying to wrestle their way through an Afrikaans speech at school. Many would write their Afrikaans speeches using English grammar.

You’d assume that a country so diverse would be more accepting of people with different lingual backgrounds. I know so many people who think some of our politicians are absolute idiots only because of the way they speak English. As great as I am at speaking English I still say “can I have one sly of bread” because in my mind it’s one sly and many slice. It just sounds right, but only because English is not my home language. To anybody who’s home language is English at that moment I would sound like an absolute idiot. Let’s not judge people for speaking English in their home language.

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