Okay, I’m peeved. More than slightly. Ghanaians, when will you stop this nonsensical self-imposed colonialism?
During my tenure as International Specialist for the U.S. Foreign Agricultural Service, some American teachers and I visited an elementary school in Ghana. I was appalled to learn that new students, we’re talking six-year-olds, had to be able to communicate well in English before being accepted into a good school. The result of this stupid practice is that the younger generation can’t speak their native language anymore. Parents want to get their children into the best schools, so right from birth, they speak English to them. This is wrong on many levels.
One of the fallacies of education is that a child will get confused learning two or three languages a time. Because I bought into it, my American-born children couldn’t speak Fanti, my native language, for many years. Even now, they speak it poorly. While it is true that children mix up languages when learning more than one at a time, they sort them out by the time they are five or even earlier. At four years old, I spoke Yoruba, Asante Twi and English. By fourteen, I spoke two additional Twi dialects and Ga.
Children whose parents speak their native language to them grow up naturally bilingual, and develop stronger thinking skills, not less. My Czech friend spoke Czech to her kids; now the children are bilingual and excelled in school. My aunt in Virginia spoke Fanti to her children. They grew up speaking English and Fanti, and have done exceedingly well. These are children growing up in America. So why is it that those g rowing up in Ghana can’t speak their own language? What a travesty!
What is even more troubling is that some of these Ghanaian parents can’t speak English well. I’m talking about those who didn’t even make it to high school, who speak a halting English replete with faulty grammar. They raise children who say things like, “He have came and took my book.” This actually makes the teacher’s job harder. It’s like trying to mold cement after it has hardened. Fortunately, the children, especially if they go on to the university, learn to speak English well, but then they can’t have any meaningful conversation with their parents!
There’s nothing sadder than not being able to have a deep conversation or share jokes with one’s parents. Ghanaians are humorous and sprinkle their language with proverbs. A lot of wit is lost in translation. Children who can’t communicate with their parents end up despising them, which leads to conflict. Even sadder than that is the loss of culture, something parents pass on to their children. Ghanaians have a rich culture, from the naming ceremony when a child is born, the outdooring at three months when the child is celebrated in the community, puberty rites, etc., etc. How are these going to be conducted? Oh, sure, in English, but so much is missed.
It is important to know one’s language well. Language defines a people, whether you’re American or Ghanaian or both. Bottom line, learn your language well; it’s your heritage. People need to have a good understanding of their culture so they can cut out what is unwholesome while embracing newer ideas. That’s how we grow as human beings. So Ghanaians, stop demanding English before enrollment. Stop teaching your children that their language is inferior and hence their culture is inferior. Embrace the best of both cultures. Colonialism is over.