Ghanaians and English language! They make a big deal about speaking or not speaking it (perfectly). Many look down on those who cannot speak whilst those who speak “good” English feel pompous, superior and at times arrogant. Some people drop out of school due to inability to master the English language.This is often because those who speak poorly are humiliated, teased or bullied in schools.
Ability to speak near perfect English language is a sign or social status in Ghana. People who speak better English typically attended private (boarding) schools often located in big cities or coastal areas.They could have had access to private elementary education and/or tutors, better access to educational resources especially reading books and library often privately acquired and could have come from well resourced families.
Better English speaking Ghanaians by default have a higher probability to excel, better access higher or tertiary education and occupy higher socioeconomic and political status. Conversely, those with poor English speaking abilities are marginalized, often drop out, attend poorer schools and do tend to do as well. Many are left out and tend to occupy the lowest socioeconomic status.
In Ghana, ability to speak English is associated with intelligence and ability to participate in political and social processes, including decisions. People with less education and good English speaking skills are dismissed and often excluded from important decisions through direct or indect structural processes.
Today, I was listening to a story about an MP from the country’s Western region who people claim is unable to speak fluent English and were making interesting comments which I found a bit demeaning and derogatory. In the meantime, the said MP sounded eloquent in her mother tongue, twi, with a pretty good understanding of her roles and responsibilities.
The said MP expressed her thoughts and passion about the importance of ensuring that students in her constituency would have access to better education than she had. She stated further that better educational access and fluency in English could have made a difference in her current role. She was appreciative of the local students’ needs and wanted to help and give them better resources. Her words, efforts and bravery were touching for sure! She won my admiration too!
I wondered how many people could have understood their communities better to perform their duties much better than perhaps those who speak English and may be out of touch with the realities of local especially rural communities. After all, their communities may share a lot in common and may not need to speak English to understand her or communicate their needs to her.
My question are as follows:
1. How many passionate, equally competent and empathetic public citizens like her are we excluding due to unequal access to education and inability to speak good English?
2. How many like her would we continue to exclude?
3. Can those who speak English even relate, understand or empathize with the less privileged in the constituencies they serve?
3. Why should people be excluded further from participating in governance, decision making and other sociopolitical processes that affect affect all including those who speak little or no English?
4. Why is English language such a necessity in an “independent” country where English language is not a mother tongue?
5. Why is such discrimination or exclusion acceptable? Why is that condoned? Why is that perpetuated? How good does that serve? What effect does that have for the greater good?
6. If the English language is such a necessary precondition for societal participation, why is everyone not given equal access? Are some Ghanaians more Ghanaians than others?
7. Is English more needed in certain activities but not others? How do we justify the right and ability to vote without speaking much or any English? How can people be allowed to vote but not be be given equal access to participate in decisions?
Many Ghanaians give all kinds of excuses why English language has to be retained as the main medium communication and instructions in the country because Ghanaians are such a diverse group who speak varied numbers of languages. Many worry about how challenging it would be to translate, instruct or print educational materials and important national documents in language(s) other than English. Others argue it will be challenging to choose one language over the other because of historical inter-ethnic hatred and animosities.
But do we say the same about other foreign languages (French, Russian, Arabic etc.) being taught? Have we even made any concrete efforts to resolve this issue? How do we reconcile the issue of equal participation and ensuring national pride and identity? Do you get national pride while communicating in a former colonial language? Have we thought about what we may be losing out or what other problems we may be creating or perpetuating in our society through the use of a foreign language?
Are the discriminatory practices against those unable to speak English a form of internal racism and oppression against our own people and ourselves? Are we undermining our efforts to decolonize by maintaining English language and using it as basis for discrimination? What about the talents and skills of those we exclude due to inability to speak English?
As a society that claims to be proud of its culture, customs and traditions, it is quite ironic, strange and rather backward that the language of its oppressor is used to oppress, exclude and marginalize its own.
I think it is about we started to dismantle this oppressive barrier to allow each individual to participate fully in their own communities. It is time for action and real solution. The defeatist attitudes must be confronted.
Food for thought.
January 19, 2020