16 February, 2016

Breaking down Black culture: “My English accent”

“It’s a black thing; ask yourself why Afrikaans people speak Afrikaans all the time. Where is this low self esteem, why do we not think our language is not important?”

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When eNCA’s Andrew Barnes corrected Basic Education minister Angie Motshekga for her mispronunciation of the word epitome, he also added that someone should teach her how to pronounce the word properly.

Why do people care so much about how people speak?

Does Mr Barnes know how to pronounce words in the minister’s mother tongue?

Within the black community, many people often judge each other according to their English accent. Usually when one’s accent is not as polished as another, they are considered to be less than or simply not as smart.

In a discussion about the accent and why people care so much, Omphitlhetse Mooki, Botho Molosankwe, Lesego Makgatho and Lebo Seekane spoke about all the different factors that come into play.

“How I speak English doesn’t define who I am”.

Omphitlhetse Mooki is a pure Setswana speaker and when she went to university, it was the first time she had to interact with people who spoke the English language with ‘smoother’ accents. As the only black child in an English major class, Mooki had to face her fears and get over her inhibitions.

“When I had to do presentations it took a lot out of me because I felt I was going to be judged on how I said certain words,” she said.

Even as a journalist she would sometimes wonder if going into broadcasting would work out for her.

“I would always think people will pinpoint some words and with social media these days it is hard to express yourself without people noticing mistakes,” she said.

Mooki said there was a perception that if you didn’t go to ‘Model C’ schools you were a bit of an idiot.

“You somehow expect them (with the Model C accents) to perform better (in school) because they were taught by first language speakers.

“With time you realise accent doesn’t necessarily equate to intelligence.

My pronunciation in English is important in what I do but it doesn’t really affect who I am”.

“Everyone thought the more you have an accent the smarter you are”.

Omphitlhetse Mooki Editor of The Star (left), Lesego Magkatho, MOJO Editor, Botho Molosankwe Journalist of The Star (right)
Omphitlhetse Mooki Morning Editor of The Star (left), Lesego Magkatho, MOJO Editor, Botho Molosankwe Journalist of The Star (right)

Lebo Seekane started his schooling at a township school and moved to a multiracial school in Standard 2 (Grade 4) where he had to learn English from scratch.

“I never went to private schools but I always had friends who went to more polished schools. But as you grow you see that it’s really all about the books and nothing else,” he said.

He said in his social setting it was the same. The girls liked the boys who went to the ‘larny’ schools.

“I speak English and that’s what matters. Maybe some of my words will come out funny but I am comfortable in who I am,” he said.

“I’ve been taught not to care so much about how I sound as long as I know what I’m saying makes sense”.

Botho Molosankwe’s English teacher was a black Motswana man. “My teacher never placed a lot of emphasis on accent, it didn’t really matter,” she said.

The school, St Mary’s, had people from all walks of life and they were taught to never judge people by their circumstances.

“My teacher would always tell us to not try and match other children’s accents when we were at debating competitions but to rather speak in a way that could be understood.

It’s not the twang that will make you win, its how you express yourself”.

It’s for this reason that Botho has never felt the need to be concerned with how she speaks.

An important thing that she had also learnt from her teacher was how to pronounce words correctly in order to spell them correctly.

During class her teacher would give them books to take home and read and they would have to present a summarized version back to the class. This built the confidence of the learners and taught them how to speak up in front of people.

“I’ve never had issues speaking my mind or speaking in front of people”.

“It’s a black thing; ask yourself why Afrikaans people speak Afrikaans all the time. Where is this low self esteem, why do we not think our language is not important?”

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  • Compiled by Mpiletso Motumi and MOJO team for #RacismStopsWithMe campaign. An initiative by Independent Media and Sactwu.

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