I forgot what it felt like to learn a new language. There is not a day that passes that I forget that I am an ESL (English as a Second Language) person, apart from being at home. Today was our third Twi class at the KNUST campus and I cannot help but feel like I should already know everything we have been taught so far.
I spoke pure Spanish for about eleven years straight. It was not until my sixth-grade year when I was emerged to English classes. I struggled intensely for my strong accent during that year. It took a lot of mental and physical help to be able to catch up to my peers. The same reasons that my parents wanted me to learn English are the reasons why I wanted to learn Twi coming to Ghana. Of course, it is part of the program to attend this Twi class but I was truly excited to learn a new language. I wanted an outsider’s perspective about my own culture, establish deep connections, and open up a world of job opportunities.
More than 100 languages and dialects are spoken in Ghana. In view of these linguistic and associated cultural differences, and, as a result of the country’s colonial past, English has become Ghana’s official language. It is used for all government affairs, large-scale business transactions, educational instruction, and in national radio and television broadcasts. This was very surprising to me given that mostly everyone who greets me does so by speaking Twi. My assumption that Twi was the official language of the country was mistaken and it is still hard to believe that. Many Ghanaians feel more comfortable with speaking Twi to each other and towards us (the obrunis) that I did not see why they had to learn English. In my opinion, English is overrated. As a kid, I never wanted to learn English because I knew that I could still communicate with people through signals and motions. Day after day, after not progressing in my attempt to learn English, I had given up. Eventually, I figured out that in order for me to strive in life I had to learn English. If I wanted a better life than what my parents had in Mexico, then I needed to put my heart in learning English. The same goes for Ghanaians. In order to communicate better with foreigners, they have to learn English.
I have to remind myself that learning to speak and write Twi will not get any easier. I have to be okay with reliving the experience of learning a new language. It will be a different experience than learning English but the intensity will the same. Half of the time, everyone in our group is just as lost as I am (haha, except for Dr. Bowles) and for now that makes me feel relaxed. Phrases like Akwaaba (welcome), Maakye (good morning), Etesen? (How are you?), and Wo din de sen? (What’s your name?) are fine now. The list of phrases will only get longer from here. With that said, my anxiety of not being able to carry out a minute’s worth of conversation in Twi at the end of this program is high but I have time. I still have five and a half more weeks to be accomplish my goal. It is okay to not be able to learn Twi fluently during my time here because I am still struggling to speak and learn more English. A little bit over eight years and counting. I hope that each day here will get easier to learn Twi. Trilingual after seven weeks? We will have to wait and see.
Bodomo, Adams (1996). On the language and development in Africa: The Case of Ghana. Nordic Journal of African Studies 5(2): 31-51. Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Norway. Retrieved from http://www.njas.helsinki.fi/pdf-files/vol5num2/bodomo.pdf