The importance of Ghanaian parents teaching their British born children their mother tongue
Wo ho te sen? Wo te Twi ?
Wo ka Twi?
Are all popular Twi phrases used in everyday speech for the average Twi speaker. Translated into English, the above phrases mean the following: Wo ho te sen – How are you? Wo te Twi – Do you understand Twi? Wo ka Twi – Do you speak Twi?
Speaking to fellow British born Ghanaians it has emerged that within many traditional Ghanaian households where Mum makes the sacred Jollof rice with chicken & salad as a traditional Sunday meal & Dad sits down to watch the football cheering on his team. They will strike up a conversation between themselves. Where they will speak in Twi. “Akua, aduane abene anaa? Ekom de me paa!” to which the wife will reply “Aane, aduane abene!” When the children ask mum the same question “Mum is the food ready? We’re hungry!” mum replies in English “Yes, the food is ready” The problem with this scenario is that our mother tongue does not seem to be spoken to the children.
Yet the parents will talk to each other in our native tongue. Being a Ghanaian encompasses many things, from knowing what your traditional name is based on the day of the week that you were born, to understanding the cultural rites that are performed during funerals, naming ceremonies and traditional weddings. Having an understanding of the language is equally as important. If Ghanaian parents are failing to teach their children Twi on the basis that they may get confused whilst trying to master English as well as Twi is wrong. After all, the children will learn to read, write & speak English throughout school, college & university so surely the ‘mother tongue’ should be practised at home. In the long run if the parents only speak the native language between themselves it:
1. Alienates the child from the parent when the parent is speaking Twi to their wife / husband
2. Leaves the child at a disadvantage (when interacting with peers who can actually speak their native language)
3. When entering into adulthood still not having fully grasped the Twi / Fante / Ga language successfully means they may not be able to pass the language & culture onto their children.
A group that has been successful in teaching their language to their young is the Asian community. I often see children as young as three talking to their mothers in their mother tongue. To have the capacity to speak another language is to have the confidence to speak to other Ghanaians without your parents having to speak for you on your behalf.
This also helps when visiting Ghana. It is a common occurrence that a taxi driver will know that you’re not a local and then charge you an extortionate amount of money to take you to your desired destination.
If one has the confidence to negotiate a price when conversing in Twi / Fante or Ga it is likely that you will not be ripped off! Thankfully the opening of Twi/ Fante & Ga speaking schools certainly helps with teaching young British born Ghanaians their language. However, the need for these schools has arisen due to the fact that young Ghanaians are perhaps not speaking the language at home disabling them from interacting with their parents and other elders within the family unit.
“The demand for these schools indicates that there is a movement within the young Ghanaian community to want to gain a better understanding of their Ghanaian identity.”
When attempting to communicate with the beloved Grandparents in Ghana over the phone (who may not speak English) parents can quite easily talk to Grandma or Grandad but when the phone is handed to the Grandchild to “Say hello to Gran” the language barrier is such that they cannot communicate with each other. One speaks in English, the other in Twi, Fante or Ga with both parties misunderstanding what the other is saying. Ghana has such a rich culture and should be celebrated as much as possible.
The UK is a cultural melting pot of different ethnicities, creeds & religions. That being said it is fair to say that not all UK born young Ghanaians will choose another Ghanaian as their soul mate. Whether their partner is of Caribbean or European descent it is important that the children they bring into the world have an understanding of both parents’ cultural identities.
If English is the sole language spoken within the home where one parent is Ghanaian and the other is of another nationality this may contribute to the death of the Ghanaian culture. They say that charity begins at home well the same goes for the education of our children…
By Caroline N. Mensah