Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Experience with the English Language


The English Language was my very first language. Coming from a background where different tribes lived together as neighbours, it was almost difficult to single out English Language from the too many other languages clashing around me - including my local dialect.

Tah! My mum would say, was my first spoken word, and it progressed to tatah, which was my own way of pronouncing water. My first written word was Beatrice, my first name which is now in extinction. 

As a child, “A” was my best letter in the English Alphabet. I couldn’t tell why it was; maybe because it is the first alphabet in English Language, or because it was the easiest letter for me to scribble down aside letter “C”. Thinking of it now, I would say that I loved (and still love) letter “A” because of my love for apples, and because my preferred name starts with the letter. A for Ajumoke

I remember one time in primary school; my class teacher gave us homework to write a composition about our self. Initially, it sounded undoable to me because I didn’t know how to write a composition about myself; I had never written one, I was only eight years old. 

However, as suggested by my elder sister, I stood in front of a standing mirror in my mum‘s room, gazing at myself, in order to come up with a visible description of me. I started from my eyes; I stared at it until it peed out salt water. I checked for the colour and the shape. If it was now, I would have looked for the message behind those white fish eyes. 

I shifted my gaze to my nose, what a shape. For the first time I realised its size was un-proportional to my oval shaped face. No wonder my siblings usually teased me by saying I inhaled all the oxygen in the house. I then analysed my face with keen attention, taking note of every pretty detail. 

I measured my height using the wall as a yard stick and then measured the marked wall with my mum’s sewing tape. I was about seventy-five centimetres tall - so the tape read, and it wasn’t a good height for my age - so I thought. Finally, I observed my chocolate complexion, my dark brown coloured hair, its soft baby curls, and my thin pink lips perfected with a mole on the right upper lip. 
Until the mirror encounter, I was blinded to most of these features of mine and illiterate to the words that defined them. With the help of my sister, I was able to tactfully transcribe all the information I got from the mirror into written words. At the end, my teacher loved my write up, and more importantly applauded my effort of writing a well-detailed composition. That experience brought to the fore my writing abilities – the ability to describe what I see in written words.

The University didn’t really add any significant knowledge to what I knew already in English, maybe because of my discipline (Genetics), but it gave me the platform to communicate with more people-students and lecturers. 

Notwithstanding, I have these questions for whoever invented the English language. Why would there be a “B” in “debt” when it is meant to be silent? What is “W” doing in “sword” when it is pronounced without it? Why should the plural of man be “men” when the plural of boy is boys? Why would “ren” be added to “child” to show they are more than one? Why can’t a simple “S” pluralize everything to avoid unnecessary complications?  

The dictionary was a good teacher too as recommended by my father. He advised I and my siblings to study it page by page like a history book. It was cumbersome and boring at a point, but I came to the realisation that the dictionary is the home of English language, a wise place to find my answers. It is to every English speaker and writer what the Holy Bible is to Christians, and what the Koran is to Muslims.

My work experience as an On Air Personality also contributed to widen my view on the Language, especially on grammar. Knowing I will get queried for making blunders on air, made me meticulous in talking. I was careful to screen each sentence in my head before saying it aloud. I learnt the phonetics, synonyms, antonyms and homonyms of frequently used words, just to boost the use of varieties.

Then came blogging; publishing written articles online, which every Dick and Harry does.  I saw it as a place to show my written ideas to the critic world. After posting an interesting article or story of a young girl who learnt Kung Fu, or a mad man who killed a thief, fanatic readers would spot out minor grammatical or/and typological errors in the work.

“Why did you write - the girl thought her dog how to dance like a panda, instead of the girl taught her dog how to dance like a panda?”  They would interrogate.
Why didn’t you use an exclamation mark after - Oh my God, why did you end that paragraph with a full stop?”
"Didn’t you know the word “advice is a noun and shouldn’t be alternated with advise which is a verb (the act of giving an advice)?” They would go on and on correcting words and punctuations that I wasn’t initially sceptical about. 

Those well-constructed criticisms or should I say corrections from my readers made me better in writing, spelling, punctuations and even in speaking this borrowed language.


My favourite and most recent experience with the English Language is my experience at the Writer’s Residency. As one of the twelve writers from different parts of the country, hosted by The Port Harcourt World Book, my eyes were opened to a whole new world of English language. 
The quality of knowledge in English writing I have acquired in so short a time encompasses that of my entire stay at the University. The facilitators were bent on sharpening our pencils, and brains to be the best at writing the English language, and editing too. The result will be evident in my subsequent writings.

The English Language has without my knowing crept into my subconscious. Initially, it was at the verge of being adulterated in my head but now it has grown to the only language I can fluently speak and express myself in. I think in English language, I pray in English Language, I dream in English language, I even get angry in English language. I can not only speak the language, I can write with it, and confidently communicate effectively my experience with it.
“There is more to English Language than written and spoken words. English language to me is a mini-god that I must own and personalise if I must communicate effectively. However, no matter how hard I work hard towards making English Language mine, it can never be mine because it is not my mother tongue. It is a foreign lingual Franca which I adopted because of its universality and relevance in the economic world.  Although the English Language is very aesthetic as it is, it can never be as euphonious as my mother tongue – my sonorous Ogba dialect”
                                                                                                               -  Ajumoke Nwaeze

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