Language Shaming

Happy Wednesday!

Today’s post was supposed to be an  Out ‘N’ About post about my favorite restaurant Founding Farmers. However, that will have to wait until Friday because of a comment left under my most recent vlog Ghana 2015|Vlog# 7|Market Haul. Take a look below.

 

HeTriedIt

 

After this transaction, I felt the need to discuss Language Shaming on the blog today because that’s what I considered his shade commentary to be. I am open to criticism and critiques hence why the comment section enables anyone to leave a comment. However, I feel this comment was invalid and purposeless. I feel that any critique or criticism needs to have substance and proper delivery that is free from all shade.

shade

First and foremost he started off wrong by writing “You people” and “too American”.  And the finale, “try and learn”. Who said I wasn’t trying to learn? His commentary is what I’ve heard throughout my life in regards to me being Ghanaian and my Twi competency. It’s annoying.

annoyed

As I stated in my previous post here, my mother never taught me or my brothers Twi. I am not blaming her because she was a busy single mom working multiple jobs . Working 16 hours a day, she didn’t have time to give us Twi lessons. That was not a priority. She spoke what we understood and what would get her message across. It’s just that simple. It has nothing to do with being “too American”. It has everything to do with being practical and efficient.

I think the assumption is that because I don’t know Twi that automatically means I don’t want to learn or that I’m not “trying” to learn. Both are false assumptions. When it comes to speaking any language, practice makes perfect. I don’t practice my Twi  as much because everyone I know speaks English. Who am I going to practice with? When I do try to speak it, that’s when people (other Ghanaians) mock me or make fun of the way I say things (due to my accent). Sometimes they just bust out laughing. I thought about editing out that part (in my vlog) where I said the cloth name because I knew my pronunciation was off. However, I decided to keep it in the vlog because I didn’t think it was a big deal. Clearly it was.

When I am in America, I feel very Ghanaian and when I’m in Ghana, I feel more American.-Filmmaker Akosua Adoma Owusu (Elle Magazine South Africa)

And then there is the notion that there is something wrong with being “too American”. I am  American. I was born and raised here. That “too American” comment reminded me of when people would tell me that I was only Ghanaian because my parents were from Ghana. As a result, I started telling people I was Ghanaian when they asked me where I was from. When I said that, the response was always  “Wow but you speak English so well!!”  as if I was supposed to take that as a compliment. I find that statement offensive because I have close friends and family born and raised in Ghana that speak English perfectly. I think such a comment and even the vlog comment have more to do with accents and less to do with language proficiency. I think that if I had said the cloth name with a thick Ghanaian accent, he wouldn’t have said I was “too American”. At the end of the day, I am American and very proud of it! I am also Ghanaian and very proud of it! Like my bestie said:

Do NOT try to question my Ghanaian authenticity, this is not a contest. I have nothing to prove.

HeTriedIt

^^Pretty much!!^^ I typed “language shaming” into Google search and I came across this Huffington Post article entitled What a Shame, You Do Not Speak ‘Your Own Language’. This excerpt below reminded me of the time when this Ghanaian guy said to me in dismay “Your name is Amma but you don’t speak Twi?”

The client immediately shot back: “How is it you don’t speak Spanish? Mmm! It’s a shame that living in Los Angeles you do not speak your own language. If you look more Mexican than me,” emphasized the client, looking around for an acknowledgement to support his unfortunate comments.

This article proves that a lot of first generation people deal with this ignorance language shaming, not only first generation Africans.

***UPDATE***

This post was featured on For Harriet. Mama I made it! Click here to read my feature The Futility of Shaming First Generation People.

fh

 

What are your thoughts on language shaming? Have you experienced it?

 

Please share your comments and experiences below.

Thank you for reading 🙂

 

~Amma Mama

11 Comments
  • Bebe
    August 26, 2015

    I couldn’t agree more … As a Nigerian American that was raised in America I get languaged shamed quite often, the assumption is often that I have CHOSEN to disregard my Nigerian heritage by adopting this American dialect, this is ridiculous, to be American and to be African or any other ethnicity does not negate the other. I honestly feel it comes down to jealousy, as uncomfortable as it is to admit I do believe that when a native shames someone for sounding too American it is probably because they wish they had the ability to live in a dual world where they could be both, to be American in most places is looked at as a privlage even though I don’t agree with that notion but speaking in generalities that sentiment is often the case, so for them to see what sounds like an American in their eyes try to claim authenticity by saying they are African is there chance to exercise some superiority in a world that tells them because they are not American they are not superior

    • ammamama
      August 26, 2015

      Thank you so much for sharing your experience Bebe! I do feel that jealousy is a key player at times. I remember summer of 2006 when I visited Ghana and this guy got mad because I said I was Ghanaian and American. He said I should come to live in Ghana because that was my first home. I told him America was my first home and Ghana was my second. Boy did he get FIRED up with that one…lol
      He literally went in on me in an angry rant.
      After that incident, my mom told me that he was jealous and that he tried to get a visa to go join his gf in London but couldn’t. So like you said “because they wish they had the ability to live in a dual world where they could be both” was very true in his case.
      It’s sad that people think being American equals superiority. That’s why in Africa sometimes, you see so many people trying so hard to be American. Our different cultures and upbringing is what makes us all special & unique. One is not better than the other.
      Thanks again for your insight twin 🙂

  • Milan
    August 26, 2015

    How annoying! I am American for quite some generations but of African descent. Some of that descent includes Rwanda-Burundi. I’ve been learning kinyarwanda and on some comment on an Instagram I left a man called me a fraud and that I was no Tutsi. I was like, really sir? A fraud? For what? I think dude was being mad extra. I am of Tutsi descent and am trying to learn more about my heritage including the languages. I didn’t say or remotely act like I was born and raised there. Sheesh. You can love your culture and heritage in more ways than just knowing certain languages and you don’t have to be flawless at the language. I know tons of multi generation Americans who suck at English, I’m sure you do too! Do you boo!

    • ammamama
      August 27, 2015

      Hey Milan!
      Lol I am cracking up at “fraud”…lol
      He was definitely being EXTRA! It always baffles me when some Africans get upset at some Black Americans (i.e. Raven Symone) for not acknowledging their African ancestry but then also get upset when some Black Americans acknowledge it & try to learn more. Calling people frauds and language shaming can discourage them from learning about their African heritage.
      “You can love your culture and heritage in more ways than just knowing certain languages and you don’t have to be flawless at the language. I know tons of multi generation Americans who suck at English”
      I totally agree with you. There is not one way to be African or display African pride. Thanks so much for reading & sharing your experience Milan 🙂

  • Ama Kyei
    August 26, 2015

    Language shaming is a reality of the first-generation African. I have had numerous moments where my skin has grown hot and prickly with shame, confusion, and anger at people’s insistence at how non-Ghanaian I am due to my lack of fluency in said language. It used to hurt but now, I have learned to laugh it off and when I feel testy, tell folks that their English can use some help too. #shade. Jealousy is a factor but overall, it’s close-mindedness. If they really thought about what the factors involved in learning a language at any point in your life, they wouldn’t put us at fault for our inabilities.
    But nevertheless, it is hard hearing that from your own countrymen, especially when you GO HARD for your country and probably know more than the ordinary Ghanaian. I was so concerned about language when I moved to Ghana but I realized that people are understanding once they get over the accent thing.. A lot of people could tell immediately that I wasn’t bred in Ghana due to my accent but they loved how I was trying and worked with me. Which is funny because dude in the comments was trying to come for you and say you should ‘try and learn’ and clearly you saying the cloth’s name was you trying and learning…. He needs to learn that ‘cos’ has never and will never be English terminology. smh. Thanks for eloquently expressing what so many other American-born Amma’s and Kwesi’s etc… feel.
    You must do the post on “Founding Fathers” because I just went last week for the first time and LOVED IT too:) #bestbeignets

    • ammamama
      August 27, 2015

      Hey Mabel!!
      Lol at “when I feel testy, tell folks that their English can use some help too. #shade.”
      Yes! I agree with you, it’s def close minded-ness. Africans come in different sounds, shapes, colors and etc. There is not one way to be African. I even said the cloth name for my mom a couple of times (so she could correct me) before I recorded the haul. But practice makes perfect. I’ll get Nsubra right eventually..lol
      I am glad that during your stay people were willing to work with you. That’s what it’s all about! At the end of the day we just want to learn and not be teased or feel judged. But I know not all Ghanaians are like this guy, your experience is a clear example of that. Yes I will definitely do my Founding Farmer’s post. I’ve been eating there since 2009 and I’ve never had their beignets! I will try them now because of you. I have always ordered the same thing. I definitely need to try something new. Thanks so much for commenting Mabel and for sharing your experience in Ghana 🙂

  • Susanna
    September 1, 2015

    Amma you know this is an issue close to my heart…being language shamed! I agree it’s important to know your mother language and just because we may not know the language or speak it fluently doesn’t mean we aren’t trying to learn! Rather than laugh and be condescending, it’s important to encourage us so that we’ll want to learn even more. As you rightly said, can we be blamed if only English was spoken in the home? Do we choose what language we are learning as toddlers running around the house? It makes no sense to play the blame game. I applaud you for not editing out your video when you pronounced the name of the cloth and I encourage you to keep speaking Twi, in an American accent! Even if your pronunciation is wrong. Because eventually it will be right! 🙂

    • ammamama
      September 7, 2015

      Hey Aaya! Yep I know you know about this. Thanks for commenting and encouraging. 🙂

  • Nwadiogo Quartey-Ngwube
    September 6, 2015

    *standing ovation* I actually shared this post with a friend to show her I’m not alone in this frustration. You can never win. So I’m going to stop battling this issue and just let people stew in their own opinion. After all, I don’t owe anyone any explanations.

    • ammamama
      September 7, 2015

      Thanks for commenting and sharing my post 🙂 Yep you’re definitely not alone. And I agree with you, let them stew in their own opinion because there are far more important things to worry about and we don’t owe anyone any explanations. Absolutely!

  • 689
    November 9, 2016

    Hello Amma Mama,

    This is beautifully said ! I feel like a minority because everyone is making a huge ass deal with languages and act like you’re a failure because you are rejecting your heritage or think it’s “sad” you cannot speak in your mother language or whatever. Other people like to give you shit if you don’t speak or know it, which is ridiculous, and not only are Africans like this, but even Hispanics, and others as well. Heck I hear parents get sensitive and bothered at the thought that their kids can’t speak like native speakers even though they can speak it well, or flip if they make grammatical errors. Is it that important to be like a native speaker? Heck how much importance is “mother tongue”? I don’t think languages are that endangered and if someone wants to learn, they can always find a opportunity. (I support learning languages if it’s for passion/love, but not the political, stupid shit people place on others). Just not too long ago, a classmate of mine was saying how he feels bad that his friends’ kids don’t speak Nepali. I don’t think it’s something bad to feel about. They may want to learn later on. and I’m sure they. If you see redneck Americans learning languages and well, I’m sure they will as well.

    It’s nice to see the other side of the coin because almost everyone I come across makes a big deal, which I think is unnecessary. Anyway, I can speak three other languages besides English, and I’m not native or completely fluent in either of them, but I’m happy with what I have and I’m sure I’ll rub into their faces and set them straight if I get shit for not speaking “good”.

    Nice post!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *