I always dreaded oral class periods. I especially disliked English oral class periods. Oral – that’s what the “Onnies” (teachers) called their efforts to transform young, impressionable kids into public speakers. They made you stand in front of the class, away from the relative safety of your desk, facing the other kids (hello stage-fright!) who, ecstatic that they had another few minutes’ reprieve, snickered and joked and did their best to distract you (what a confidence builder!). Unfortunately there was no way of just mumbling your way through the “speech” you had so painstakingly prepared. Nu-uh! Mumbling’s only reward was to start again from the beginning, and speak up (can you say tomato, or beet?), so the teacher could hear you. I could never quite decide if I’d want to get up there and get it over with, or sweat buckets waiting for my name to be called. clouded marbles
They say the best way to speak in a 2nd, 3rd, or whatever number, language is to think in that language and to not try to translate while you speak. Hmm. . . excellent advice, and very true. Would you mind telling my brain that, though?! That only works if I don’t think at all about the language I’m communicating in, and it only lasts until I “forget” the word I want to use.
As much as using a language other than my mother tongue used to frighten the daylights out of me, these days I don’t seem to care too much about making a fool of myself. Well, at least not while chatting with a friend – and belief you me, I’m glad I’m not on the other end of our conversations!
On a few occasions one of my dear friends suggested that I am welcome to speak in Afrikaans, as long as I didn’t mind that she responds in English. Great, let’s do that. She kicks off with a “How are you doing?” I open my mouth and out pops . . . mangled English. Oh, deary me! So I’m unable to participate in a multilingual conversation? Okay now, who can I blame this on?!
I graduated matric (grade 12) with English barely making it onto my certificate. My first job had people thinking that I’m the shyest thing on two legs. If you spoke to me in English back then, the best you’d get from me was a smile and a “hello”. As English is the language most South Africans has in common, mostly as a second language, it became obvious that I’d have to “get with it”. I started reading English books, watching movies from “over the seas”, and tried for more than hello-and-a-smile responses.
Today, I have a lot more guts and I’ll do my best to make myself understood. I now automatically change languages to accomodate the other party who, more often than not, have a better understanding of English than Afrikaans. I still mangle it – English. My word choices sometimes leave a lot to be desired. And my pronunciation is so atrocious that I’m probably creating new words without knowing it. That would explain the silence from the other side of the phone line, wouldn’t it?
Phew! Am I glad you don’t have to hear me when you read me! 😉