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English is my first language. Though my father is Idoma, my mother Ebira and my birth place a chiefly Hausa region, English was and is my first language.
I have studied English as a prerequisite from nursery school until I dropped the book I was just reading.
I used to get turned off by people who didn’t speak well, especially if they were in the eye of the public. I could write a person off if they mispronounced a word. A whole speech could mean absolutely nothing to me if the speaker’s diction and grammar was not up to par. I used to correct people in my head while having a conversation with them. At a point, when a person didn’t speak well, I would flinch; literally!
I knew I had an ‘r’ problem but I felt I was better at speaking correctly than most people. I used to pride myself on speaking well until something happened in 2014.
I was attending a communication training for media personalities; this was when I worked on radio and television. The trainer – whom I respected very much – critiqued my spoken English so much so that I almost cried during the session. She told me how my pronunciations were fair at best and that I needed to go back to the books. The only thing that kept the tears in was the last vestiges of pride that I desperately clung to.
When I got home, and looked beyond the sting of the criticism, I realized that my spoken language started getting bad when I started speaking a whole lot of Pidgin English. To make matters worse, the American English depicted in the kind of movies I loved was not helping me. It took a total stranger to point out the fact that I had no reason to boast in something I wasn’t really good at. Talk about humbling that pride!
To many, it would seem like nothing. But to anyone who knows that a media person has to sound right at all times, you know that particular criticism was well needed. Every time I had been wrong in my pronunciation, someone listening also flinched! That thought alone had my skin crawling; what with being a perfectionist and all.
So, I went back to the drawing board and started learning my language again…even if it meant from the scratch.
This brings me to another problem. Many people say that English is not their mother tongue in excusing how poor their grammar is. I think that argument is lazy. You cannot spend 14 years from nursery to secondary school studying one language and then come back with, ‘it is not my mother tongue’. Admit that you are lazy and no one will beat you.
I think the onus lies on us to be correct in our pronunciations and sentence constructions. We cannot afford to mix our tenses and fuddle our grammar. This is especially so if you are a media personality, teacher, or public speaker because you are in a better position to educate and influence the public. Nobody wants to listen to someone who does all the ‘tiauns’ and the ‘gbagauns’. Everyone wants to listen to someone who is flawless in sentence delivery and who has a great, commanding diction.
Having said that, it is important to note that speaking well doesn’t necessarily mean donning accents that are not yours; which is what many people do these days. Think of Pete Edochie, Joke Silva, Chimamanda Adichie, Amina J. Mohammed and even many of our parents who were or are educated. They speak so well without losing the essence of their indigenous accents.
So…let us go back to the drawing board and refine our speech!
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