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What It’s Like Not Knowing Your Parents’ Mother Tongue

If you’re the child of immigrants, then you know all too well about growing up in a household that spoke a different language other than the English you were exposed to. This means you were lucky enough to speak and understand two languages, at least.

However, if you’re like me, and your parents didn’t speak their native tongue to you growing up, then it might have left you feeling out-of-place at home and with your peers who can communicate in a different language.

Despite growing up in a Yoruba household, only English was ever spoken at home, with Yoruba only being spoken occasionally; mainly when my mum was threatening me with her slipper, but you get the point. They thought that for a child to be able to speak several languages they need to be taught from as early as the first year of their lives as this is the time they start to narrow down ranges of sound. Although I heard phrases here and there, I am still utterly clueless, and now that I’m older I wish my parents spoke it at home all the time.

There is a multitude of times where, whether it be at home, family gatherings or even on social media, I’ve witnessed white people speaking perfect Yoruba or Pidgin, and I feel disconnected from my parents and my heritage.

As a British Nigerian there are times where I have felt too British for my family, but too Nigerian for my friends. For example, there are times where my mum will ask for something or answer me in Yoruba and I must look at her blankly as I ask for a translation.

I came across the video above on twitter recently, and I feel that it perfectly articulates what it is like not knowing your language, not connecting to your Britishness and how language is important.

I’m not angry at my parents, but I do wish that they had taken the time to speak Yoruba at home when I was younger. There have been many times where I wish I could cuss out non-Yoruba speaking people without them understanding me but for now, I guess I have to settle with holding my tongue.

Those of you that are only monolingual, it doesn’t mean that you’re never going to learn but just that it’s going to take a little bit more work. Perhaps when your parents are speaking their native language to you, ask them what it means and ask how would you respond. Make a note of how to spell words and memorize their pronunciation so you can build your own little dictionary. If you feel as if not knowing your family’s lanugage is separating you from your heritage, then it’s never too late to learn it for yourself.

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Tola Folarin-Coker
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A lover of makeup and movies; I'll watch anything with aliens, robots or robot aliens; comedies, comic book movies and spy flicks too. I also dabble in social and political issues․

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