English is not my First
(re: language, accent, immigrants, and
is interesting to note that there is hardly any emphasis on grammatical
accuracy when people converse in their native language. Such emphasis is
hardly of any significant concern when two or more indigenes converse in
their indigenous language. I may not be sure about others but I have
noticed that I hardly ever worry about grammar when conversing in my
native language - Igbo (which is my first language).
The point? Less emphasis on grammar allows one to concentrate on the
substance of the discussion rather than the form it takes. This also
allows for more understanding and less misconceptions when people
converse. I cannot say the same for English language and would not really
care except that sometimes, in the effort to sound very grammatically
correct in the English language, or to imitate the English/American
accent, some of us who did not learn English as their first language
deviate from the objectives of the conversation or the goal of
communicating to the reader or listener.
It is my understanding that one's accent or intonation is mostly based on
the habits and manner of speech (or speaking) that one imbibed from
parents, siblings, relatives, society, and environment while learning to
speak. Using Africans for reference in this discourse, I must say that
children of African origin, born and raised in western environments, learn
to speak like the people of the western society they have been raised.
Unlike their parents, these new generation Africans are rarely accused of
having an accent. The reason is simple. These children learned to speak
from childhood in the western environment and not Africa, thus eliminating
the chance to imbibe the African accent as they learned to speak.
To some readers, I may simply be making an already obvious point, but the
concern is that some of us who did not have English language as their
first language have joined others in the conclusion that a person's
integrity may be less if one's accent is different from the majority or if
one's English contains some grammatical errors. This piece does not seek
to condone mediocrity in communication skills, but unless one claims to be
an expert in the English language (or any other language for that matter),
he ought to be given a break if he is less than perfect in the same
language. Besides, speaking (or writing English) like many other things in
life, is an art and our level of efficiency will always differ from one
individual to another.
Many of us who learned English as a second, third, or fourth language, are
grateful for the gains obtainable through the use of English in today's
world, such as the ability to communicate with more people than our native
language would allow. A writer would be glad to know that he is able to
communicate with his readers in a language that is not originally his.
However, such writer ought not to be expected to be perfect in the English
language. This piece does not condone grammatical mistakes that could be
avoided by a little more devotion to the study of English. It is the view
of this piece that a sincere good effort to learn English language should
be encouraged for any success made, rather than criticized for mistakes.
Many individuals strive to keep their focus when writing or speaking in a
foreign language, rather than be distracted by the desire to be perfect.
We must bear in mind that in most cases, one is only compelled by
circumstance to speak, read or write such other language. It has been
observed that many people who usually used an immigrant's difficulties
with a language as a basis to rating the immigrant's integrity and
mentality have been humbled by simple things such as not being able to
pronounce the names of these same foreigners or immigrants that they have
ridiculed. It is a forgone conclusion that these critics may not be able
to communicate in the native language of the criticized immigrant.
Immigrants usually seek to make a living in their new domicile or the
foreign country they find themselves to be residing, and that is a good
motivation for most of them to study and understand the lingua franca or
predominant language of the new domicile in question. It is the opinion of
this piece that the integrity of such immigrants ought not to be
considered inferior just because such immigrants fail to display the same
level of understanding of the domicile language as the indigene that was
born or raised in the same domicile/territory in question.
in America, Britain, Europe, or any other part of the world. In fact, the
same logic ought to apply to all immigrants from any part of the world.
Such understanding can only improve our tolerance and understanding of the
immigrant in our midst.
Perhaps, this piece should be concluded on the note that language, race,
tribe, and gender are mere earthly qualifications and camouflages of the
true identity of the individual - Soul. The language of Soul is love, and
love is a universal language. This is only my opinion.
First Published-July 2002
THE AUTHOR:Oliver O.
Mbamara, Esq., is a filmmaker, writer, poet, and playwright. He is also a
judge with New York State, OAH. For
more on Oliver Mbamara, please visit www.OliverMbamara.com
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