In English, Please!

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EEWA! Catherine Sasman Shortly after independence, a visiting Nigerian teacher found himself teaching some English words to a bunch of Namibian pre-primary learners. Of the words to be learnt for that day were ‘an axe’, ‘an apple’, and so on. Duly proceeding with the lesson, the teacher eventually got stuck in trying to get the right pronunciation from his young learners. “This is an ax,” the teacher emphasized, pronouncing the word as one would say ‘ask’. “This is an ax,” the good children mimicked. “No, no, no! Not an ax! This is an ax!” the teacher remonstrated in frustration. The poor learners could not fathom what they had done wrong. After all, they were merely following their teacher’s example. Needless to say, the poor flabbergasted souls did not get it right. And one suspects that the same is still happening in our English language classrooms. The truth of the matter is that we Namibians just still don’t get the hang of the Queen’s language – despite the language’s official status. This reminds me of a Chinese national complaining to a colleague that Namibians “speak Engrish velly, velly bad”. The Chinese, by the way, are notorious users of the English language themselves. Consider this: a notice in an elevator in China reads, “No getting warm by fire”. That is to say, “Observe fire safety rules”. A notice in a taxi goes, “Keeping seat belt safe please”. Signs indicating that one has to wait read, “Waiting please”. A sign at a massage parlour reads “Foot, bottom and body message here”. And a travel guide writes “The beauties of Putuo Maontain has attracted many poets and authors come here and left many stone inscriptions and transfer good works”. It is therefore not surprising that when a Namibian tries to teach a new arrival from China some English, the results can be disastrous. I recently walked in on a young Namibian teaching a Chinese colleague some English words and phrases. After a lot of gesticulating and back and forth negotiation of meanings and pronunciation, the eager Chinese student duly jotted down the result: “You are go home; can not bath.” Eewa!