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Two tongues are better than one

Tue, 22 Oct 2013 Source: Zanyoh, David Teye

One of my cardinal aims in life, aside from becoming genuinely rich and famous, is to at the very least, speak a dozen languages- foreign and local, before Jesus Christ's imminent second coming (per Christian doctrine), to mandatorily make us account for our deeds. I professed this to my friend the other day and as expected, he just got lost, but of course I never spoke to him in double Dutch. Honestly, I will stop at nothing to see the foregoing dream come to fruition.

Communication is key in every human society. And language is equally an important conduit for effective communication. The two cannot be decoupled. In this day and age, where the world is said to be a small global village, it is only imperative and vital to learn a language other than one's native language (mother tongue) say, Ga, Twi, Dagbani, French, Spanish and what not. Permit me to paint this picture to you very briefly. Phil speaks only two languages: Twi and English, whereas Mike speaks six, with English and Twi including. Ceteris paribus, tell me, and please be sincere, wouldn't you wish you were the latter rather than the former, given the benefits one stands to get by speaking multiple languages?


You might label me an overly ambitious twenty-something year old man or better yet a person who hallucinates and is filled with unrealistic dreams and I would bear no grudge against you for your ill-informed assessment. However, I trust that you will share my page midway through this piece or perhaps by the time you hit the concluding sentences.


Needless to say, I never haboured such thought since I was brought to this world by the kindest courtesy of Miss Dorcas Asumah and Mr. E. A. Zanyoh's nightly exploits back in the 80s.


Barring my native tongue, which I speak with some appreciable degree of fluency, I can communicate quite effectively and impeccably with very minimal or no discomfort whatsoever with five different people from different ethnic backgrounds in as many tongues.


Neither have I seen the riverbank of the Volta River at Big-Ada, a town I proudly hail from by virtue of my genealogical patrifiliation, nor have I been there to celebrate my people's (without the slightest endorsement of tribalism) well-known 'Asafotufiami' festival. Yet I can chat with any Dangme fellow worth their salt, thanks to my mother's conscious effort at passing on her ancestors' intangible component of culture progressively onto her children. Also, owing to my over-two-decade stay in a Muslim dominated (Hausa-speaking) community; you wouldn't dare bet against me speaking some appreciable and ear-pleasing Hausa, would you? Exchanging pleasantries is just a rudimentary for me- I perfectly understand and can equally and effortlessly use most of the Hausaian terms right from the 'yaros', the 'jimanas', the 'yaayis' down to the 'walaahis'. You see?! More so, I need not struggle to be in tune with a Ga, seeing as I am quiet fluent in the language. Reasonably, my nearly entire stay in the Accra Metropolis and most certainly my relationship with several Ga folks partly goes to underscore this fact.


Let us delve a bit into the Akan realm. Sorry I have got to disappoint you here: my Twi proficiency isn't as apt as the earlier mentioned languages. Notwithstanding this seeming hitch, no Twi-speaking homo sapiens on this very earth will struggle to communicate with and understand me, either to transact business or to get interestingly intimate. Truth is, some few years ago, my Twi prowess really left a lot to be desired. Resultantly, I either stay mute or at best utter awkwardly-pronounced Twi words/phrases whenever I find myself in an only-Twi-speaking fraternity ostensibly to fit in the fray. Gleefully however, I'm way better now, in this regard. Shame onto a certain Gina Aninakwah, who for reasons best to her, chooses to ridicule me anytime I make utterances in Twi. I shudder to say that, not only can she not string together a well-meaning phrase in my native dialect as much as I can abundantly do in hers, but she also has a huge barrier before her with regards to communicating in other local dialects. She must shamefully bury her head after learning this from me. Oh yes, no apologies! That's the truth up to the hilt.

As for Fante, my six year sojourn with those folks made me speak in that language quite fluently, but that was then. Now, and sadly however, my proficiency level has greatly dipped to 3.5 on a measuring scale of 1-10. Bad, isn’t it? Yes, I know. But at least, I am far better than hundreds of thousands of Ghanaians who but for formal classroom education where English is used, would have most probably learned to speak only one language (their mother tongue), not to talk of stringing up sentences in many local languages.


Bluntly, and without any malicious intent whatsoever to my brothers/sisters from Northern Ghana, I don't speak any of their languages. And I bet you would bear with me considering that I've been stuck in the southern belt all my goddam life. I hope my Kusasi roommate takes me through few words and sentences.


At this juncture, you would be wondering what point at all I am trying to drive home. Or maybe I've lost my way. Absolutely not, my dear reader! Far from that- I'm right on track. I am only building a chronological thought in your already discerning mind. So if you would exercise some little restraint. Thank you!


Oh did I tell you that my English, both spoken and written, isn't bad at all? Oops! You already know, right, as long as you are able to wrap your brains round what you have read thus far. Well, if not, then I am afraid you would be better off using the sheet on which this article is written upon for your next toilet paper. I speak these two with varying degrees of fluency. You need to see how my 'Nija' (Nigerian) friends wow at the dexterity with which I speak their own Pidgin English.


During a job interview sometime back, an employer upon perusing my CV posed to me a question that explained his dismay at the number of languages I claim to speak. He was left open-mouthed for some few seconds! I've been subtly eulogised by people for being able to speak all these languages. A feat I even find not worth taking pride in, considering the lot more languages I am deficienced in and thus intend learning in the not-too-distant future. By the same token, my breath was taken away when I heard the first petitioner in the just-dismissed Supreme Court petition, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo speak French with an amazing degree of fluency.


Now, forth comes my reasons for being on your neck all this while to make frantic efforts at speaking more languages hence bothering you with my personal stories. The benefits are innumerable.

First up, most experts agree that the earlier a child is introduced to a second language, the greater the chances are that the child will become truly proficient in the language. You can, by inference, imagine what would become of that child should he/she be introduced to more languages. On this evidence, we should try as much as possible, to introduce our children to different languages. I applaud Ghana International School (GIS) and others alike for showing the way albeit the languages taught there are primarily international.


One does not need the highest possible IQ level to agree with me that language barrier can be a hindrance to a nation’s growth and development- in all institutions. The West is this developed partly because of the relative sense of oneness in language. Conversely, Africa and Ghana most especially, has been polarised all too evidently on language lines, thereby hampering development. If you doubt this, just check out the heavy division between the perceived Akan-NPP and Ewe-NDC party faithful in this respect. Speaking other people's language might not be the sole sine qua non for ensuring peace and development in society per se, but it at least plays an integral part.


Further, students of foreign languages have access to a greater number of career possibilities and develop a deeper understanding of their own and other cultures. Locally, I am a clear epitome of the latter assertion. Not only can I fit quite well in a few Ghanaian cultures, I can also engage in a wooing confabulation with a beautiful damsel from those cultures. Inferentially, I need not tell you the number of female hearts I've won and later broken. Ha-ha! Lately, I've mastered the art of communicating in a few food sellers' language at the point of transaction, just so the latter would serve me more food than my money can actually buy at that material moment. Please don't try this; it might boomerang! And don't say I didn't warn you! But on a rather more serious note, fluency in and understanding of other languages promotes unity and social integration, especially in our heavily polarised Ghanaian society. Think of how peaceful and relatively homogeneous this country would be if all its citizens speak at least one local/ethnic group’s language other than theirs. This holds true because conflicts in Sub-Saharan Africa can, to a great extent, be attributed to language (cultural) differences.


Again, some evidence also suggests that children who receive second language instruction are more creative and better at solving complex problems.


That is not all. Aside from the fun that comes with speaking more languages, one makes new friends, thereby making them open to opportunities which they otherwise wouldn't have had. Finally, and in my own reckoning, people's confidence also considerably improves in themselves thus impressing their friends during the communication process.


Celebrities who minus English speak multiple languages abound. American president, Barack Obama less English speaks fluent Spanish and Indonesia. Our most-revered mother, Queen Elizabeth speaks French impeccably well. Take a good look at the below list. Al Gore- Spanish; Bill Clinton- German; Celin Dion- French; Pope Benedict XVI- German, Italian, French, Spanish and Latin; Shakira- Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Arabic; Tony Blair- French; Will Smith- Spanish; Cesc Fabregas- English, Spanish, Catalan, French; David Beckham- English, Spanish; Roger Federer- English, German, French; Cristiano Ronaldo (better than Messi if you ask me)- English, Portuguese, Spanish. The list goes on and on. So you see?

I trust that by now you will be wondering how badly you have lost or are losing out. But hey, like my favourite rapper, Drake admonishingly puts it; 'better late than never'. You still can catch up if only you pay heed to my advice. On my part, Ewe is next up on my language learning list but my great 'Ayigbe' friend, Selorm, isn't helping matters the slightest bit.


Aside from English, I will score zero percent (0%) if I partake in all international languages' (French, Spanish, Dutch, etc) examination. And of course, I cannot even exchange pleasantries with folks from those jurisdictions. Oh, how shameful! But well, it is not all doom and gloom for me and others in the same circle. In fact, I intend enrolling at the Alliance Francaise subsequently after my first degree at the University of Ghana. The other international languages will hopefully follow in that order at the most-opportune time.


On mastering the local dialects, take the below counsel from me for only One Ghana cedi. One, get acquainted with people from ethnic groups other than yours. Two, please help someone else understand and possibly speak your mother tongue if they don't- don't be selfish! The truth is, it is not well-nigh impossible for you to speak several languages fluently.


A general misconception exists that learning a language is difficult. I really dispute that. Admittedly, some languages take relatively long time and effort to learn. But I can guarantee there’s no such thing as a difficult language.


For those who may not quite concur with my submissions on this subject, and for that matter may stubbornly be content with just a language or two, I wish they change sooner or later. But if they refuse to, time will surely make them suffer the dire ramifications. It's not a curse, but a will-certainly-be-fulfilled promise. Also, don't misconstrue my point, for I am not asking of you to speak all 6,909 or thereabout languages there are in the world.


By and large, I pray and hope this piece serves the purpose for which it was painstakingly written. Ultimately, please 'be ye doers of the word not mere readers'. And "a word to the wise is not to be repeated ever again!" See you on another matter.

David Teye Zanyoh


University of Ghana, Legon.


0247 628151 david_mensah87@yahoo.com @dave4u0408 // teye2g3@yahoo.com/facebook.com

Columnist: Zanyoh, David Teye