speaking the tale very deliciously

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! 😉


24 thoughts on “speaking the tale very deliciously

  1. I would have never guessed by reading your blog that English was your second language. Don’t worry about making up words – people whose first language is English still manage to do it all the time!

  2. I too would never have guessed that English is your second language! I love the way you write, and like ‘hearing’ your ‘voice’ in my ear as I read.

    As for those dreaded orals… man… did your description bring back memories. I HATED speaking in front of class… and like you, I’d always wonder if it was best to get it over with quickly (so I often got accused of talking- too-quickly-so-slow-down-and-take-a-breath!) or to hope fervently that the other speakers would dawdle, so that there wouldn’t be time for me to speak!

    Ironically, the class in which I was LEAST terrified of speaking on prepared (and unprepared) topics was Afrikaans. NOT that I spoke all that well, but perhaps it was because we were all in the same boat… German was our first language, English our second, and Afrikaans our third. So the pressure was reduced… somewhat.

    • Thanks, Reggie!

      I must say that writing is a whole lot easier for me, especially since you can “hear” my voice with your own accent (if you have one) 😉

      Wow, 3 languages?! I learned a little German in school, but all I remember is this one song they taught us about a bird in a tree.

    • Oh! Can you remember that song? I’d love to hear it, in case I know it too.

      That paragraph where you say that you and your friend try to have a multilingual conversation – I have that same experience a lot with Afrikaans people. I think they must hear or sense or intuit immediately that I am not Afrikaans speaking, and then they swing over into English to accommodate me. I think it’s really sweet and polite of them, but I also really love hearing them speak their own language… in fact, I now listen to ‘Radio Sonder Grense’ on my car radio, so that I become a bit more fluent.

      When we go to Namibia, we speak all three languages in the shops. It’s AWESOME. I love switching from one to the other, depending on the shop assistants’ preferred language. German and Afrikaans are spoken a LOT up there.

      In South Africa, I almost never speak German outside the home, so I love hearing it in the streets and the shops and on the radio, when we visit Namibia.

  3. Very descriptive post. This takes me right back to my high school Afrikaans class!

    Your English pronunciation is not bad at all. It’s a lot better than my Afrikaans! I think those silences might be due to the fact that you’re translating Afrikaans sayings directly into English. I know that I get odd looks and silences when I do that from English to Afrikaans.

    • Pronunciation: You mean it only sounds bad from where I’m sitting? 😉

      Hmm. . . I never thought to link translated sayings to the silences, so thanks for shedding a little light on that. Now you’ve done it, though! I want to hear you translate a saying 🙂

  4. @Reggie

    Can you belief it?! I actually found the lyrics to that song [ here ]. I only remembered up to the end of verse 3 🙂

    I’ve heard people say that Afrikaans is not an easy language to learn, but maybe that’s just a gross generalisation?

  5. I wouldn’t have ever guessed! I’m glad you’re less inhibited about speaking English now 🙂

    One of the things I regret in life is the fact that I lost my Japanese. When I was a kid, I lived in Japan for 4 years and learnt Japanese…I spoke and wrote it like a local! Kids are really good linguists! But then we moved back to India and I had no-one to speak it with and slowly but surely…it faded away 😦

    I learnt French for 5 years in school and college but that’s not going to help me find my way in France, if I ever get there!

    • Thanks, Harsha 🙂

      Our brains are amazing things. I’m sure you’ll start remembering all that you think you’ve forgotten once you start listening to Japanese, and French, again! And watch sub-titled movies, for what it’s worth 😉

      I always wanted to learn French {sigh}, and Spanish {double sigh}, and . . .

    • The Hubby is learning Portuguese, which a lot of the older generation Goans still speak, Goa being an old Portuguese colony! Maybe I should take classes too!

      You should too…learn a new language in the new year 🙂 We can compare notes on our progress!

  6. Pingback: when you blog, what comes first; the chicken or the egg? | clouded marbles

  7. Oh goodness me, this takes me back… I used to hate Orval’s, especially English orals too. And prepared reading in English! But I have to be honest, over the years in my job I have had to do a lot of presentations and speeches and as long as I am talking about a subject I am comfortable with, I am much more at ease nowadays. I am sure my English teachers at school would never have guessed. Now, I am embarrassed about my Afrikaans (and I am also Afrikaans born and bred)….

    • Hi Gertie! Thanks for coming to check out my blog 🙂

      I agree with what you said. Now that I think about it, I don’t worry so much when I’m talking about something I have some knowledge of. Interesting what a little confidence can do for a person. 🙂

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