Why do some Ghanaians struggle to pass their language on to their children?

I’ve been trying to understand this phenomenon for years. When I compared my situation to friends from other cultures – I struggled to understand why that same pride in speaking Twi was not part of my upbringing.

Lawrence Darmani’s book ‘Talata’ written in the Akwiapem Twi language of Ghana

As a result, I have become more than a little obsessed by my Akan roots and the Asante Twi my family speak.

My cousin in the US told me that he’s been trying to encourage his little ones to learn the language and even invested in some books for that reason. But – in his words – the children are not interested.

Part of the issue – I think – is relevance. If the language is not viewed as relevant, valued and important in the house, it is unlikely youngsters would want to learn or speak it.

It is often associated with admonishment, rules and directives. Most of you in this position will know that your parents will fall into speaking their home language when they are frustrated with you or want you to do something ….and do it quick. Rarely is it linked to more neutral or personal conversations….so why would you want to speak it?

Another more illuminating discovery is that a lot more books are written Akwiapem Twi so if you speak another Twi dialect, you may struggle to gather all the meaning.

I put this to the test with the image and caption above. One important word was missing from the sentence ‘hoo’, which should have come between bɔɔ and  kɔɔ. I am told the words refer to sudden movement.

So in this context, the sentence means something like this: ‘Maame Afua suddenly rushed to the goat that had taken the party dress’.

I was surprised that even after asking many native Twi speakers to verify my translation, many either said they weren’t fluent readers of the language or simply couldn’t make it out.

I must add that in Asante Twi – the more familiar word for goat is ‘aponkye’ and it seems that the word apontow for party has fallen out of favour in place of the English word!

So it is fortuitous that this issue of language endangerment is getting more attention – thanks to some within Ghanaian community.

As we celebrate 59 years of Ghana’s independence Pamela Sakyi – the writer and director of ‘British Ghanaians: Lost in Translation’  – explores why our languages are in danger of dying out in a three-part vlog.

In part 1 here, she talks about her experience learning Twi and explores reasons why some British-Ghanaians are losing their fluency in their home languages.

In part 2, Sakyi reveals plans for a sequel.

And in part 3 gives some tips on getting into the TV and film industry.

To keep reading about language endangerment in Ghana and the diaspora, check out the following blog: Talking Twi with TV’s Ortis Kwame Deley  and hear about his personal journey in the following vlogs here.

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