The lingo limbo

Border Crossings was recently discovered by another blogger, Gori Girl, who is a white US woman married to an Indian man. She has written some excellent posts about learning her partner’s language (Bengali), which is a wonderful coincidence for me because learning DadaK’s language, Ashanti Twi, is currently pretty high on my very long list of things to do.

It’s great to know there are other people out there heading in the same direction. Gori Girl also recommends some useful resources, which I’ll be taking a look at when I pause to draw breath from passport applications, vaccinations, buying luggage and general travel planning. Which may not be until I am actually in Ghana, in early June.

Learning Twi has been on my list for a long time, for many of the reasons Gori Girl lists – better understanding of culture, not getting left out of jokes, better communication, etc, but it’s been catapulted to the top because of the imminent trip to Ghana. I’d like ActionMan to be able to talk to his Grandmother, even if it’s just a very simple conversation, and I’d like to be able to do more than tell people what I want to eat (Me pe abenkwan).

However the main reason it’s taken a long time to get to the top is because – surprise, surprise – it’s not the kind of language where you can sign up for a course at WEA any day of the week. There are no courses. There are, as far as I know, no qualified teachers, at least not in Sydney. There are not even any classes for children, as there are in the Arabic, Vietnamese and other communties. I don’t know why this is so, but I can speculate.

English is the official language in Ghana and children are taught it in school, so perhaps Ghanaian migrants don’t think it’s that important for the children to learn their own language as other migrants do, because they can always communicate with their children in English. Of course children do learn at home from parents, but I don’t know if they speak it as well as they would if supported by classes. DadaK does complain that his other childrens’ grammar is all wrong.

Perhaps it’s just because they are a relatively new community (only about 20 years old) and small compared to the Lebanese, Vietnamese and other communties that have language classes. It could be that it hasn’t yet become a priority because they have been dealing with so many other issues related to settling in a new country. Also, because they are not refugees, they don’t get the same level of support & services that other African communities do. Tho I’d probably be hard pushed to find a Dinka class if I needed one, too.

Another reason maybe lies with the nature of Ghanaian, and perhaps all African languages. The Ethnologue.com language map for Ghana lists 67; Wikipedia reckons there are 79, although it could be that Wikipedia’s list includes some of the dialects as discrete languages. This is in a country the size of Victoria.

While most Ghanaians in Sydney are Ashanti Twi Speakers, there are certainly other language groups in their community, and this would have an impact on setting up language classes. First, there’s the practical difficulty of finding teachers and resources in exactly the right language/dialect. Then there’s the politics. Which I won’t go into, but you can probably imagine.

This also makes it difficult to learn the language independently. For example, I found a dictionary in a language bookstore which I’ve been using – but it’s Fante Twi, not Ashanti Twi. The differences are small, but confusing enough to be discouraging.

So all in all, it’s not straightforward to learn Twi in Australia, and I’ve had to put in a fair bit of effort to get as far as I have. But the more I learn, the more fascinating it is, and the more fun I’m having. There’s a lot to tell, so I’ll save my stories for another post.

Come back soon for Part 2 of the Lingo Limbo.

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2 thoughts on “The lingo limbo

  1. Oh, I hear you on this one! I’ve been trying off and on to learn my husband’s native South Indian language – and it’s amazing how few resources there are for English speakers to do such a thing.

    A couple of random resources I’ve found helpful are internet radio stations (at least gets you hearing the sounds), kids’ magazines or books (for VERY young kids… at least at my stage!), and using a flashcard program on my computer that can quiz me with audio files (I had to make them myself by recruiting native speakers to read the words for me, but it really helped me learn to recognize things when they were said aloud). But… it’s HARD!

    I look forward to the next post on the subject!

  2. Thanks Sf, they are great suggestions. I do like listening to Ghanaian music & trying to guess what they are singing about.

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