A few days ago I dropped my child off at school. She just moved from my homeland to a bigger town. Her teacher expressed worry. She said my daughter understands the English language very well but that it’s challenging for her to speak it. She also enquired if we spoke the mother tongue to her at home. I smiled and told her my daughter (who is 4 years old) has been in my hometown and her mother tongue is the predominant language used. My response addressed her worry. Her teacher pointed to the fact my daughter needs the English language just as she equally needs the mother tongue.
She has difficulties at the moment but that is expected in the language learning process. As a child, she has an added advantage and she’ll adapt pretty soon. The environment and exposure to the English language will enhance the way she uses the language as she will acquire the language and equally learn it at the same time.
As a way out of the quagmire, learners (and language users who can still afford to learn) should be encouraged to override the challenge(s) and nurture the spirit to learn and to take themselves up to the level of the essentials and the standards of a second or third language. These languages facilitate learning, communication, business, etc. in formal setups in most countries.
We may laugh at a Chinese or someone from the West who speaks a second language with a foreign accent but the laughter isn’t one of mockery as when an African who lives in Africa makes a mistake or speaks a second language with an accent influenced by his first language. This reflects in the attitude we project when a mistake is made when we speak our national languages. Such mistakes are given less attention and mockery as are usually given the same mistakes made in reciting a second or third language. It’s high time we started according to our national languages the same importance we give other languages
What accent comes out when you speak a second language? Exposure to a second language and the accent with which a speaker (at any given time) uses when speaking the language is greatly determined by the environment in which one finds his/herself. As such, a first language has a major influence on how a non-native speaker of English, for example, would speak it. Some speakers of a second language or third acquired it effortlessly while some made an effort to learn it.
Colonialism introduced Cameroon to the English and the French languages. The two languages were later made official languages co-existing with the many national languages. More than 240 national languages are spoken in the country and this number has a correlation with the number of tribes in Cameroon. The tribes are categorized under three major ethnic groups; Bantus, Semi-Bantus and Sudanese. These languages have their specificities and have greatly influenced our rendition of English and French.
A keen listener or someone who’s versed with the language set up in Cameroon in terms of geographical locations would easily detect speech features (like tone and accent) and probably tell where the speaker hails from when he/she speaks. When a majority of Anglophones speak French you would likely get traces in the tone and the accent that indicate French is not their second language. The same as when a majority of Francophones speak English you get the inevitable infiltration of the French accent in the English they speak.
As much as the variations in speech when it comes to English usage as a second language are justified, some non-native speakers have made it a duty to mock and even ridicule those who speak English as a second language with a “strong” accent. There is more to acquiring and learning a language. Before you ridicule someone because of speech lapses in a second or third language, you should have that in mind.
A cross-section of Anglophones who have left the provinces and have settled in urban areas (especially families with kids) are putting in their utmost best to communicate with the kids using the English language. I recently visited a family member in Bamenda and as we sat, her phone rang. She instructed her child to take the phone from the table in the house and hand it to her. Her sentence and accent had traces of the interference of her mother tongue.
Despite the glaring grammatical flaws in her sentence, she at least attained an aspect of language usage— her language was intelligible enough to communicate. Socio linguistics tells us that language is shaped by many factors including things like social class, level of education, sex, geographical location, occupation, etc. Her diction and pattern are common amongst people of her social class. So it would be unfair if someone made fun of her language proficiency without looking at these factors.
Permissible sound sequences and/or the absence of certain sounds and sound sequences have greatly influenced language usage in most non-native speakers. The absence of some English language sounds or sound sequences in the mother tongue provides a possible infiltration of mother tongue sounds and sequences as a replacement. As such, language transfer becomes a common phenomenon as sentences and the meaning they convey are constructed with a typical mother tongue word pattern.
There’s a cliché that the English language is not our language and that the essence is for communication to take place. Yes, it’s not our language but that doesn’t mean we should give a deaf ear to the downside(s) we portray in its usage that would have been corrected if we made an effort towards the direction. Just as the target is for us to communicate, we should endeavor to make sure the sentence structure is grammatically fit. The standards of a language shouldn’t be murdered because it’s not a first language to its users. No effort is a minor one in the learning process.