Gogo can’t speak English!
How can we introduce our children to our other languages when we even dream in English? A mom wonders.
‘Mommy, did you know Gogo can’t speak English?’

This was the statement that came from a 4-year-old who had just come to the shocking (and according to her, hysterical) realization that she may not be able to communicate with her great grandmother and that, lo and behold; there are people out there who do not and cannot speak the language that she is so used to.

My daughter is half Xhosa and half Shona, but to my shame (yes, it is shame), she communicates only in English and as parents we have received plenty of criticism for it. People say ‘you should constantly speak to her in the languages so she can pick them up’. I know that to be a formula that works because every time she goes off to either grandparent’s house she comes back uttering words like ‘ndirikuda’, ‘yintoni’, ‘molo’ and ‘mangwanani?’

I realised how bad the situation was when she started laughing uncontrollably whenever she heard someone speak in Shona or Xhosa. Now as an African parent I would really like my child to speak and have an excellent understanding of all 3 languages… but she doesn’t.

Who is to blame?

Okay, I know I am to blame, but I would like to shift the blame - to the society we grew up in. When we were growing up, Shona wasn’t the main language spoken. We were encouraged to practice and communicate in English in order to be better prepared for education and that translated into a people that default into English when conversing. I even dream in English!

And in all honesty when was the last time any Zimbabwean in the Diaspora spent the entire day speaking in their language? I will take it a step further and state that if you couldn’t speak English you were considered a lesser being.

Now I am stuck in a space between the person I grew up to be and the mother everyone thinks I should be. In between cooking, laundry, picking up and dropping off, play dates, searching for pet snails, and everything else being a parent entails, I now feel the pressure to consciously remember to teach my child Shona and Xhosa. It’s exhausting - but it’s something I have to do.

For educational products in African languages, visit Puo.

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