I’m an African but… English is my first language

Read the previous episode (I’m an African but… Wait a minute!) here

DISCLAIMER: I do appreciate African cultures; they are beautiful when you see them all come together in their diversity, but for the love of them all, I just cannot seem to get a hang on the indigenous languages.

I’m impressed by the African countries that have their indigenous languages recognised as national languages but I’m not sure how it works. I’d definitely love to explore.

Nigerian Pidgin got a go ahead as one of the 12 languages on BBC News as part of the World Service Expansion. And I’m curious; does every Nigerian speak pidgin? South Africa has 11 national languages, yes eleven. This always gets my eyes bulging.

Let me just talk about my country already.

There are over 40 indigenous languages in Uganda, but the official languages are English and Kiswahili. Firstly, I think Kiswahili was added as they tried to integrate the East African Community, and is it working?! Hehe

I guess you want to know how many of these languages I can speak.

Not to take the highway, I reside in Kampala, the capital city. It’s where I was born and bred. English is largely spoken here but because of a tribe that once dominated the central region, Luganda is also widely spoken in Kampala. Some even argue that they want it as a national language but we shall debate that another day.

So here is the twist; I just realized that I have lived a lie my whole life. I thought I could speak my language so well till the day I was told to make a speech. My brother likes to say there is a way the mind just ties up when it comes to speaking these languages in an organized manner so I guess we are in a jungle mix with languages.

Isn’t it ironic when you speak English so well and you get the side comments, but when you try to speak a local language it’s just not good enough?

Hey, let’s not forget that you are supposed to know your parents’ languages, and then they still want you to speak Luganda, Kiswahili, and of course, English. Who said this is easy?

You may be wondering why the fuss. Meanwhile, my mum told us she intentionally taught us her local language because she knew that the moment we stepped into school, it was a goner and of course, now when you listen to millennials speak they seem to have a language of their own.  Sometimes, our parents say we sound like we’re speaking slang all through when it’s just a mix of English and a few words in different indigenous languages here and there.

My point basically is that we Africans should stop the headache of bickering about languages. And I can’t support Luganda being part of Uganda’s national languages.

One of my first attempts at speaking Luganda was in University. Yes, it was that far along (side note: people expect you to know Luganda when you live in Kampala but I was not in tune). So on this day I attempted to speak Luganda, my friends laughed at me and they never let me forget it. That killed any other attempts for me to bother with the language. Now I use it only when it’s important because, how much more humiliation can one face?

Then there’s the case of you just not escaping the judgement of not knowing your parents’ languages especially when you travel to the villages. Imagine travelling to an area where it’s not even where your parents are from. You better have a best friend who speaks the language by your side.

It is now common that many people my age can barely speak their own local languages. Yes, intermarriages happened and some people don’t even know where their villages are, but no, we are not pointing fingers.

I understand the language identity but it’s a whole mess up here where you hear comments like:

“I wouldn’t date someone with a bad accent for English”.

“How can’t you speak your language? What do you speak at home?”

“Ahhh but that’s a lie, where don’t they speak Luganda in Kampala?”

“That girl is proud, she can’t speak her language” (loosely translated), etc.

Now that we have friends getting married it’s interesting when you attend a traditional ceremony and you can’t even pick a single word so you just follow as if on mute.

I once attended a friend’s wedding where the bride and groom were from different tribes, and they had MCs trying to communicate for the other relatives but imagine what it was like for those of us who didn’t belong to either tribe. We ended up laughing at ourselves throughout the whole experience.

I currently have over 30 nieces and nephews, yes I have a large family, and I assure you they know any local languages. So, we are not going to start blaming anyone here except the fact that this language thing is becoming increasingly difficult.

Schools are trying to integrate languages into their curriculum but of course, most students choose foreign languages like French, German, Spanish, etc.

A friend recently assumed I speak Kiswahili because I’m from East Africa. I didn’t correct them; after all we are neighbours to Kiswahili speaking countries.

Currently yeah, I speak English as my first language, in fact, it’s how I best express myself, and I will not be afraid to say I’m most comfortable speaking it.

I can speak my parents’ language enough to get by not enough to discuss current affairs. (On the plus side, my parents’ language is similar, just imagine those with mixed parents.)

I speak some Luganda, one that enables me to buy something from a market but I still grapple with the greetings that differ during the day. In fact, I freeze.

I also speak Kiswahili that says hey I speak kidogo kidogo (small small).

As for the 37 other indigenous languages, I see you, I love you but we are not warring over this. I’m an African but when it comes to speaking the indigenous languages, I just can’t!

I’m waiting to see how this will pan out for the next generation.


This post was written by my delightful Ugandan sister, Connie Dia who blogs HERE (be sure to check her out). This is the fourth episode on the “I’m an African but…” blog chain started by Valentine Writes and Bolaji Gelax.

You too can be a part of this chain by writing a creative piece on what (anything at all) you are expected to be, do or like as an African but you so not like or are not. Send your piece to gelaxchatroom@gmail.com or valentinemakoni@gmail.com.

Check out: I’m an African but… I don’t like cooking

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Bolaji Gelax

Hey, Star! Thanks for stopping by my world. I'm a gorgeous, sassy radio junkie who enjoys playing devil's advocate. I love everything that makes me happy, which includes the Stars in my #Galaxy. They call me MISS FLOWERY because I bring good vibes, love and light. Feel free to explore my world ❤✨

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18 thoughts on “I’m an African but… English is my first language

  1. https://tse1.mm.bing.net/th?id=OGC.2a0f4210ca37d1eefa7756981df80cf3&pid=Api&rurl=https%3a%2f%2fmedia.giphy.com%2fmedia%2f13RGiS3cRvouLm%2fgiphy.gif&ehk=%2bdJoUGb4BCwbU1DI1jCZsYrPyXnS98UcSaUPJV3DLO4%3d
    40???????????? Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaat? How big is Uganda? I can relate, albeit a little. My parents’ first language may as well be my second language, because they sent me to an English medium school at age 3. Now how are we expected to properly learn our indigenous languages when bombarded with English so early in life?
    Loved this post🌸🌸🌸

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    1. Exactly what happens in Uganda you introduced to English at an early age so you left to struggle to learn the local language along the way and that is if your parents are deliberate to expose you to their cultures.

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    2. One thing I have also learnt is that is is HARD to learn a language when you are grown / an adult. What I learnt in kindergarten / primary school is what I will be able to use lol

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  2. Firstly, a gazillion thanks to you Connie for jumping on this blog chain.♥️♥️♥️ I had a good laugh the first time I read this, because it is totally relatable.

    Language is a big deal here in Nigeria too (amongst the older generation at least).

    Funny enough, I love speaking Yoruba because it is one of the riches languages in the world. No kidding! There’s literally an expression (or more) for everything, and what makes Yoruba even more interesting are the gesticulations and sounds that accompany it. It is simply hilarious!😂

    If you understand the language, it would be hard for you not to have a mental picture while reading it. It’s that wild!

    Contrary to your experience though, I get offended when people tell me I’m speaking too much Yoruba. Someone has once told me he doesn’t like girls who speak Pidgin or any vernacular. I was like, “Boy, bye!” 🙄 Can you imagine?

    Another thing that irks me is people trying to shame me for sounding too ‘funky’ while speaking Yoruba/Pidgin. Like can y’all find a different struggle!🤦

    Okay, now I fear this comment is already turning into a blog post🤭. I’ll keep the rest to myself 😁

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  3. Yoruba sounds interesting hehehe you should send me an audio being loud with it. Yes you will get shamed for speaking a local language a certain way and also for speaking English too well.
    It’s just crazy people cant be satisfied.heheh

    Thank you for the opportunity miss sunshine

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  4. “My point basically is that we Africans should stop the headache of bickering about languages. And I can’t support Luganda being part of Uganda’s national languages.”

    You stabbed my heart….!! We should never stop I must say. Language is part of the human soul!!

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    1. Ah, here will go! I’ve been waiting all day for the counter arguments to roll in (blame the devil’s advocate side of me 🤭).

      Sincerely, I thought a Nigerian would be the first to give Connie some gbas gbos 😂🤣

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  5. If someone does their thinking in English and have dreams in English then they can have English as their first, the Ganda language ten years ago there were 6 million Ganda people and 27 million Lunganda speakers. Uganda needs to stick to English Swahili. Having signposts in many languages is a problem.

    One of the problems of uniting Africa is simply French and English

    Even the USA has a Spanish and English issue. The Canadian Prime Minister does a press conference in French and English

    Language is more of a geopolitical problems world over

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    1. Wait, hold up… Are you saying my adopted country has signposts in multiple languages? That must be a big much, isn’t it?

      So, what could be the probable solution to this world problem?

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    2. Personally, I would be fine if everyone in the world spoke English as a first language lol. I understand the importance of language as a cultural identity, but if the primary purpose of language is communication…. everyone speaking in English would make communication easier… for everyone lol

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