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28.02.2007 General News

English Language: A medium Ghana Cannot Do Without

In contributing to a debate towards Ghana's independence in Parliament, Dr Kofi Abrefa Busia, leader of opposition said among other things that one of the positive gains from colonialism was the English Language.

He noted that “the English Language has not only enabled us to communicate with our fellow countrymen of different tongues and tribes, but has also prepared us for effective membership in the wider community of nations to which we now come as adults and no longer as wards”.

Again in Anthills of the Savannah, Chinua Achebe, one of Africa's greatest novelist of all time, notes that language is one of the things “that saves our progeny from blundering like the blind beggars into the spikes of the cactus fence.

The story is our escort, without it, we are blind. Does the blind man own his escort? No, neither do we the story; rather it is the story that owns us and directs us. It is the thing that makes us different from cattle; it is the mark on the face that sets one people apart from their neighbours”.

Indeed, language is crucial to understanding and appreciating the culture and practices of a people. We must recollect that in the Bible, during the attempt to build the Tower of Babel, God had to cause the problem of multiplicity of language to put a stop to the ambitions of men.

Ghana has adopted the English language as the official language. Therefore, all correspondence and activities are conducted in that language, yet the majority of our people cannot speak English.

However, more Ghanaians are illiterate in the mother tongues than in English. That means that there are more Ghanaians who can read and write in English than any of our mother tongues.

Another reason why we should be proud of the English Language is that, even if it were not our official language, we would have been compelled to study English, which is globally the first language of official communication. In civil aviation, English is the prime language.

However, in Ghana, our approach to the English Language makes it difficult for it to have popular appeal in terms of use. We want to speak it impeccably and the moment one makes a mistake, we get at that person.

We have not done much to domesticate the language the way it has been in say Nigeria, where there is so much flexibility that even those who are illiterate are able to speak.

Unfortunately, we do not promote the same standard when it comes to our mother tongues. We mix the sentences and there we are unable to utter any sensible statement wholly in the mother tongue. We look to English as if that is the essence of scholarship.

Indeed, one of the problems confronting us is this obsession with English to the extent that against the scientific fact that children do well when they are taught in the mother tongue before a second language, we are prepared to introduce our children to English before they are able to pick any words in the mother tongue.

At certain times, we cause ourselves unjustifiable anguish and embarrassment because of the obsession for English. At Speech and Prize-Giving Days in our educational institutions, those who perform better in English and other subjects are applauded whilst those who perform outstandingly in Ghanaian languages are virtually booed.

As much as it cannot be contested that English is crucial, we equally have to open up for instance in learning French since we seem to be an anglophone island surrounded by Francophonie.

We would be better off if we develop our literature in the mother tongues to complement English.