Local musician and businessman Lazarus Shiimi, notably known as Gazza recently came under fire from Twitter users for not teaching his children their mother tongue as they noticed that whenever he communicates with them, it is always in English.
“I have tried my best to teach them,” replied Gazza to some tweeps. He later took it to social media to properly teach his boys (AJ and Luis) some Oshiwambo idioms and proverbs to instil some discipline and life lessons.
Pride and association were rife on social media with some users bashing others for not fluently speaking their mother tongues. One begs to ask, what does speaking fluently mean? Can a person speak a language fluently?
An internationally renowned scholar in rhetoric (the art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing, especially the exploitation of figures of speech and other compositional techniques), Prof. Jairos Kangira highlighted that there is ample evidence to prove that many people of the younger generation cannot speak their mother languages fluently, especially in urban and semi-urban areas.
On what fluency means, he said it is when someone speaks a language fluently, he or she expresses his or her ideas clearly and intelligibly in that language.
“His/her listeners can get what he/she is communicating without difficulty. There is mutual intelligibility between the interlocutors when someone speaks a language fluently,” shared Kangira.
On whether a person can speak a language fluently, Kangira said most people speak their mother languages and foreign languages fluently.
“Again, it goes back to effective communication in the language/languages in question. Most people in rural areas speak their mother languages fluently because they are predominant languages in these communities.”
The huge shift towards English as a global language and language of success has influenced people’s call for the use of mother languages, especially indigenous African languages, by the younger generation.
However, it is equally true that young people in rural areas speak their mother languages fluently. There is less contact with English than in urban settings where English usually plays the role of a lingua franca.
Cultural and language activist as well as former Omurari FM (Otjiherero Radio) station manager, Jarimbovandu Kaputu said a person can be fluent in a language. “It is possible for a person to be fluent in their mother tongue. Fluency in this instance means not code-mixing or speaking the language without switching to any other vernacular,” he explained.
He said times have changed now as children have rights and parents tend to refrain from correcting lingual mistakes of their offsprings.
“Growing up, we were reprimanded whenever you mix Otjiherero with another, we were not allowed to speak it and add words such as “but”, “you see”, you know”, we were heavily reprimanded for that. Right now, I can go the whole day speaking my mother tongue without mixing it with any other language. But with kids having rights, parents are playing it downwards and have this “It’s the kids right to speak however they want”,” he sadly pointed out.
Kaputu blamed parents for having children who don’t speak their mother tongue fluently which leads to young people slowly leaving their cultures to follow modern things. He also cautioned the young ones to not deviate from learning their cultural roots, which encompass the language aspect.