Friday 15 July 2011

Ṣẹ you speak my language?

Hi everyone.

My name is A Simple Thing.

I'm currently learning French at an advanced level and Japanese at an intermediate level, and I occasionally dabble in Korean and Mandarin.

But I have another confession to make (trying to get the Best Of You).

I don't actually speak Yoruba.

That's my embarrassment at my Nigerian fail, and my lacklustre MS Paint picture skills...
It's not that I've never wanted to - my parents never bothered to teach me. I've literally been bugging them since I can remember - "Mummy, teeeach me! Daddy! Please!"

I mean, I can understand it pretty well, and I worked out how to read the tones when I was seven and had to read letters to my grandma, but the writing? The speaking? These other essential parts of communication are severely lacking in my life.

And  when I first started looking a while ago, it seemed that the resources for a comprehensive (and free) guide to learning Yoruba were..well, non-existent.

Although it's recognised nationally as a language in Nigeria, it's not an official language of the country. A distinct lack of famous nature reserves and an unfortunate non lack of political issues means it's not exactly a tourist hotspot. So outside of Nigeria, it's really difficult to learn to speak any Yoruba.

Of course, lack of resources hasn't stopped me from trying to learn it. A year later, I'm still trying.

My biggest inspiration has been a  girl called Cara Titilayo. Here's one of her videos:

Isn't she amazing? My mum watched that video five times, because she was flabbergasted.

I've found some decent resources and I'm combining what is written with the knowledge buried inside the minds of my parents.

My mum actually never studied Yoruba, thanks to the golden education system of her time, but speaks it fluently and far more often than my dad.

I phone her when she's not busy so I can test my pronunciation on her.

She likes it because it's one way of getting her daily laugh.

 My dad studied it and speaks it fluently, so he's a gold mine when I want to ask a question about the technical difficulties, like the alphabet rhymes (a for ajá, b for bàtà etc). 

Again, he gets his fair share of laughs as well (and tells me that my younger cousins would call me 'Mama London' if they heard my accent, which I'm cool with that - it's not like it's a complete fiction).

Sugabelly currently has a language challenge going on where Nigerians post up them talking in their native language with a transcript, but I'm not brave enough to do it.

Instead, what I'm trying to do is stay committed to working me way through one form of internet Yoruba course. Although this one is more detailed, I find the way it's written very confusing, since it uses letter that are not present in the Yoruba dictionary (c, q, x, z) to replace the extra vowels.

Er. No thanks.

So I'm trying to stick to this one instead for this summer whilst waiting for my knee to decide whether or not it wants to stick with me or not.

But doing stuff like this makes me wonder if I'm the only person who is as obsessed with learning languages like this like this - most kids are know are either multilingual thanks to their upbringing or have no interest in another language, which I think is sad. 

I'm fascinated by the constructs of different languages and it blows my mind that people with the resources to learn to communicate and ultimately learn from people from other countries, other cultures, and other places simply don't care.

Then again, I've also been told by many that I'm a nutter for being so obsessed, so I guess it's all a matter of perspective.


  1. lol consider me flabbergasted as well. I'm not surprised that she speaks it but rather her fluency is really something else! She has managed to flatten out her tongue which many Americans and Europeans find hard to do.

  2. That tendency to flatten the tongue meant I had a terrible lisp well into my late teens.
    I think I'm so impressed because she's obviously made such an effort for a language that many don't learn to speak thoroughly.
    On her blog, she talks about how she was presented in an attempt to try and persuade children in Nigeria to learn Yoruba.

  3. I'm impressed by this post and by the video as well. Languages are very interesting to me. I love to hear them, even when I have no clue what is being said. It fascinates me how much a role the tongue plays in formations; things like that I generally never thought about until I mingle with people who don't speak English as a first language and have difficulties knowing what to do with that thing (and vice versa). lol Now you make me want to pick up my studies again. :-)

  4. One of my favourite things at university was eavesdropping on international students. I had no idea what they were saying but it always made me smile hearing them - it was soothing in a weird kind of way.
    My endless fascination (and lack of anything else to do) motivate me to continue learning more about language!


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