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English is a fabulous language. It is commonly spoken throughout much of the world due to Great Britain’s expansion during the colonial age. People in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and parts of Africa, India, and many small island nations speak the language. I believe English is a commonly adopted language in Germany, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands. This means that the cultures of these countries are open to people as they will be able to interact with those living there.
The dominant role of English as a world language forces itself upon one’s attention in a way that no language has ever done before. It has become the chief means of communication between nations.
In Ethiopia, the language is spoken everywhere. It is all around us; even when we speak in Amharic, English is sure to be there somewhere.
I myself find it difficult to speak purely in Amharic without occasionally throwing in some English words. While knowing how to speak the English language well is very important, mastering how to speak one’s own native language without unnecessary additions is equally important. But we seem to be speaking a hybrid language that is neither here nor there most of the time.
So does English seem to be taking over? Sure, globalization maybe one reason, but I think that’s just part of it. When I was in school (Primary) I took English as a subject. In the school, we spoke the language in that specific class only. You learn it and use it in class and then when it is over, you resume speaking Amharic, as the other subjects are given in that language. Then comes along high school where the reverse occurs; all subjects are taught in English, while Amharic is taught as a single subject. During my time, even though we were watching films made in Hollywood and sang “American” songs, we were still able to speak both English and Amharic well enough, and quite separately, aside from the occasional mess-up. For a long time in Ethiopia, knowledge of the English language has been one of the major validations for the question: “how smart am I, is she, is he…?” It was considered as the language of the elite, which was an unfortunate turn of events. Now, the then unfortunate situation seems to be heading for a completely hopeless one. Currently, we have even more access to Hollywood films, satellite television, magazines, and the internet…and then we have the so called “international”.
I have been a teacher in one of these “international” schools, where surely the student body is supposed to be a mix of different nationalities. It was a very interesting environment, as it was difficult to tell the Ethiopian students from the foreign ones, because the Ethiopian kids would rather die than speak a word of Amharic. Every day, it seemed like a battle trying to help and encourage these young and impressionable kids to change their ways and get up the courage to speak in Amharic. But it was just too uncool or, even worse, some of them sincerely just didn’t know how to speak it as they never bothered to learn it in the first place. They didn’t know how to write it or how to read it, and they genuinely didn’t want to. “What is the point? How would it be useful? Why do I need to learn it?” they simply asked. They raised these questions because they really believed that it will not add anything to their lives; it would not be useful to them. They are completely consumed with western pop culture and everything that comes with it. All this said, we cannot blame the children, but we can squarely put the blame on their parents, the schools and the whole educational system.
I understand why “international” schools exist; foreigners need to send their children somewhere to receive education, don’t they? But in most cases, these schools have Ethiopian students, and only Ethiopians. But you wouldn’t even know this when visiting these schools, as again, nobody would speak Amharic. In some severe cases, you would see signs that encourage students to only speak English. It really is getting out of control.
Usually parents encourage this as they, during their time in school, probably never got to learn English well and that somewhat has left its mark on their lives. So now, they believe that they must try to give their children what they didn’t have.
It’s actually similar to how most well-off children are on the verge of becoming obese; their parents provide them with all the junk food and soda they never got to have when they were at their children’s age.
This is neither good for the children nor their parents. The children will grow up and inevitably realize that they have indeed missed out, especially if they continue to move upward to local higher educational institutions, and plan to lead a well-rounded life in Ethiopia. They have spent all their life here, but they will end up in limbo; neither a local nor a foreigner.
I am focusing on Amharic on this article, because I am writing about Addis Ababa. Something simply must be done. Perceptions have been corrupted. We need to change the way we re-examine what is our own and the way we do things. Yes, English is very important, but our native language is part of who we are. We should stop this madness and just be proud of who we are.