Opinion: Our Schools Need to Teach Oral English – Part 2 By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.

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President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo/Photo: Presidency

It also did not help matters that the teacher who was assigned by the Assistant Headmaster, I suppose it was Mr. Gyimah, my paternal grandfather’s namesake, to accompany me to Mpraeso Secondary School to enable me to take my Oral English exam, Mr. Badu Anti, did not seem to be the least bit interested in the question of whether I excelled in the exam or not. He would literally vanish into the bungalow of a female National-Service Teacher at the school whom he was widely known to be seeing or courting – Mr. Anti was also a National-Service Teacher – as soon as he pointed me to the main classroom block in which the exam was taking place. When I came out for break after a little over an hour and was in dire need of somebody to talk to, even to solidarize with me, as it were, Mr. Badu Anti was nowhere in sight for me to even think of asking for a pointer or two. That, of course, was nothing short of dispiriting. On second-thoughts, however, I came to the sobering conclusion that maybe it was all for the best because Mr. Anti, who mostly taught Commerce and Accounting courses to the lower classes of students, and Economics and Accounting to the sixth-formers or the Advanced-Level students, was one of those typical Ghanaian teachers who had an extremely difficult time differentiating between the pronunciations of “Rs” and “Ls.” And boy, was the man a popinjay and a panjandrum.

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You see, the first impression that a newly arrived Ghanaian been-to, as the expression goes, gets when s/he turns on the television, and I imagine the same goes for white-skinned Westerners and their Diaspora African compatriots, is that the general level or aptitude of the average Ghanaian news presenter or media personality is well below average and one that leaves much to be desired. You could even swear without any fear of contradiction that Spoken English is anything but Ghana’s official language of business and academic instruction. So badly is the quality of the general level of Spoken English or the delivery of communication in the English language in the country, that anybody who speaks English with an accent that favorably approximates that of the native speakers of the language is held in suspicion. The other day, for example, one of my in-laws, a well-traveled and highly educated person, asked me while we were watching the evening news together and President Akufo-Addo was featured in a footage giving an address somewhere in the country, whether I did not find it difficult appreciating the “weird” accent of the Commander-in-Chief of the Ghana Armed Forces.

I quickly responded that I did not have any problem listening to the “really weird” affected Scottish accent of the then-Flt. -Lt. Jerry John Rawlings even before I departed the shores of the country for the United States. “Absolutely not,” I riposted and added, “My own father spoke with pretty much the same accent as Nana Akufo-Addo long before he left Ghana for the United States in November of 1971.” The old man, of course, has been gone for some 17 years now; that was the last time I was in Ghana. He expired in the United States but wanted his mortal remains to be interred in the soils of the very village, Kyebi, in which he had been born. So, I left teaching for some two weeks, at the beginning of the spring semester of 2002, and flew back to Ghana to find his remains a final resting place and then headed back to the Land-of-Milk-and-Honey that Divine Providence pointed me to, when Chairman Rawlings began to rain global warming all over the place. Well, I told my kind and generous in-law that my late father spoke with a pleasantly “distilled” accent that was a bit closer to European accent because he also taught Speech and Drama or Theater in the United States, where he had also studied Speech (formerly called Rhetoric) and the Performing Arts at the University of Wisconsin, on the latter’s Main Campus at Madison. But, of course, the old man had his beginnings right here at the then School of Music and Drama at the University of Ghana, Legon.

Once during the leadup to the 2008 general election, I did a book presentation of a volume of short essays and articles that I had partly dedicated to the now-President Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo. Shortly after I was done with the presentation and moved away from the podium to retake my seat, Brother Kwasi Ohene, the friend who had accompanied me to the ceremony, it was a forum organized by the New York City Chapter of NPP-USA, leaned towards me and whispered into my ears, “So all of you Kyebi people speak like white folks, huh?” “Well, we are as well-educated, nearly every one of us, as the best-educated white folks, aren’t we?” I shot back. My good friend wistfully chuckled and said with unmistakable sense of resignation, “I can see that.” I smiled smugly to myself and thought loudly to myself, “I bet you do!” The fact of the matter is that if you are going to speak a non-African language like English as one’s official language of business, the best professional advice is to try to speak it as close to the accent and pronunciation – or enunciation – of native speakers as possible. Don’t strenuously fake it, however. The fact of the matter is that any lover of languages would tell you that speech or spoken language is an art with its own set of artistic rules and principles; and the better you do it, the more credible you sound, and the greater the respect you would receive from your audience.

Many Ghanaians do not seem to realize this simple fact; and even if they do, they do not seem to respect this salient cultural reality. Which is why oftentimes when you correct somebody’s wrongful pronunciation of a word or expression, you would invariably hear another who feels irritated by your prim manners or fondness for “proper” English retort, “Didn’t you understand what s/he just said?” Well, the fact of whether I understood a badly pronounced word or chain of words is decidedly beside the point. You see, it is not a facile question of understanding or not understanding a form of the spoken language. Rather, it is more about one’s sense of linguistic artistry, that is, the beauty of spoken words done the proper way. You see, we carry our sense of beauty and self-respect and apply the same wherever we go in this world. And we can see this even reflected in our general attitude towards our environment and the way that we even build our houses and maintain the same.

*Visit my blog at: kwameokoampaahoofe.wordpress.com  Ghanaffairs

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