Saturday, February 3, 2018

The Code Switch Part II: Speaking to Get Ahead?



Hi ladies.

In part one, I discussed life as a child and how language weaved itself so intricately into my existence. Click here to read it!

In 2005, I started my degree in French and Linguistics, which opened up my world beyond black and white. It was now no longer important to use language as a means of being cool. I was sat in a classroom with students from around the country, and around the world. There were mature students and young professionals. I was amongst some of the most intelligent people and if I am being honest, I was intimidated. But in the midst of it all, I learned a fast lesson: that in the grown-up world, especially when trying to learn a modern foreign
language all pretense had to be put aside. I quickly became humble and allowed myself to be taught.


2007 was my dreaded year broad. It's a Europe wide "study abroad" scheme, called Erasmus and is available to students studying modern foreign languages. Unlike most students excited to get away from dreary London, I was not looking forward to being uprooted from what I had always known to be plonked somewhere in western France (I had always stayed at home). If my first two years at Queen Mary was a melting pot, then the period from September 2007 to July 2008 spent in Tours, France was like being thrown into a shark tank! I met people from Canada, the States, Italy, Spain, Francophone Africa, Lusophone Africa as well as the natives from the region! Phew! As lovely as some of those people were, it was a lot to get my head around. My lexicon had to bend and stretch in many ways to accommodate those whose English was not too fluent, all the while bearing in mind that I was also there to fully grasp the French language! I ended up forging some great friendships and thankfully managed to achieve a 2.1 in my BA, and some fluency in French. Praise God.

Not long after graduating, I landed a job in an Anglo-Franco company.The role demanded some knowledge of French. Many of my colleagues were French-speaking, and we were dealing with an international market. Shyness took over and I retreated in my shell again. I knew I could speak French but I was just so self-conscious about my accent. My native French-speaking colleagues were quite helpful but there were times I felt totally out of my depth - like when they shared jokes or would ramble on for hours! So I opted for the cop-out option - speak English and have everyone try to understand me!

Let's go forward two years. I embarked upon an MA in International Communication and Diplomacy. It was a course which was designed to shape you into a walking, talking and thinking diplomat. So we did things like practice how to conduct ourselves in front of a TV camera, give bilingual presentations and role play in mock UN meetings. (Remember how I spoke as much English as possible in my French-speaking job? Well that had to change because I needed all the practice for my bilingual presentation assessments).  I sat side by side with diplomats, lecturers, and journalists. Oddly enough it seemed my past experiences had prepared me for this course, so I navigated through it quite confidently. No doubt I came out with my speech quite polished. Let me just put in (for bragging rights only) that I achieved a distinction in my course, and came top of my cohort.

I am currently married to my Nigerian husband (and I mean straight out of Ekiti state), and we enjoy a wonderful marriage. However, although English is spoken at home, my south London upbringing and his sometimes very-African way of viewing the world does at times call for me to deploy my diplomacy skills. But it's all good. I have charged him with teaching me how to speak Pidgin English and we've had lengthy discussions about teaching our future children English, Ga, Yoruba, and French. We'll see!

Why have I given you my life history? Just to portray that in life, the social forces at work and our environment will always have an influence on the way we speak - even if it's unintentional. Sometimes a particular language or a way of speaking will seem more desirable or prestigious because of the company we are in or who we aspire to be. Language and identity are sisters who refuse to be separated.

My question is, is it fair for one's intelligence or ability to perform at a job to be judged because of the way they speak? Prescriptionists (people who believe we live in a world where we are governed by rules, and so, therefore, our speech should also fall in line) argue that we should always aspire to "speak properly". On the flip side,  there are those who believe that language should be described, i.e we should embrace the evolution of language, and the quirks each generation adds to it.

For me, whilst the latter is utopic, I am very realistic about how far that will get you (plus I am a stickler for grammar). So what say you? Is code-switching a necessary evil, or should people simply be left to speak the way they speak?


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14 comments

  1. I think language will evolve whether we want it to or not, so I'm happy for it to follow it's course. Having said that, I do change the way I speak depending on my situation and my husband mocks me for my telephone voice!

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    1. Yes, language will always evolve. I am open to new words being added and taking on new meaning , but I hate it when people do not follow grammatical rules! Also, I think it's important to know when it's appropriate to use new and modern language. It's funny how we all have a "telephone voice".😆😆 thank you so much for sharing your opinion.

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  2. This was a great post! Growing up, I realised that people associate you with different stereotypes based on how you speak. So one that used to irk me was when people would say "you sound white or like a coconut" and then make the assumption that I thought I was better than them. I remember people would hear someone with a Nigerian accent (for example) and assume they were 'less intelligent'?!

    My question to you is, how did you make the effort to learn your husband's language and his culture? What challenges did you face?

    Such a great post - I'll be raising this over dinner with friends tonight!

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    1. Hi es, thanks for your comment. As humans we cast so much judgement on people for so many things, including how they speak...and it's a shame. My cousins accused me of thinking I'm superior because of my speech. Pay no mind to those calling you coconut. I still don't understand my husband's language, bar a few words and phrases and that's only from mimicking and making fun of his phone conversations!

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  3. Hmmmm this is a b8it of a tricky one and definitely food for thought!I definitely have a telephone voice as well! haha.
    Kate x
    themakeuaprtistschoice.com

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    1. Lol! Don't we all? I wonder where the "telephone voice" comes from. Thanks for reading!

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  4. I really admire you for learning a foreign language, it isn't easy. My litle sister speaks 5 languages and i can see how she has evolved as a person from it. X

    http://www.glitsxgrace.com/2018/02/01/4-tips-to-feel-good-be-more-organised/

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    1. Hi Nicole, thank you so much, but honestly it was only a degree. There are people doing very admiral things like training to be doctors! Wow! What languages does your sister speak?

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  5. The 'study abroad' scheme must have been so daunting and overwhelming at first, I can absolutely imagine! Happy to hear you got a lot out of it and made some great friends along the way :)

    aglassofice.com
    x

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    1. It really was Gabrielle. I cried for two weeks solid! Thanks :)

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  6. Loving your style! You are so chic. Would you like to follow for follow on Bloglovin? :)

    Xx,

    http://beatricebalaj.com/

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    1. Thank you Beatrice. Will find you on Bloglovin!

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  7. I read this post and really glad to know more about you. To study abroad is very difficult and studying foreign languages is really a tough task. You have done a great job my dear.
    Have you Great day dear 😍
    http://www.rakhshanda-chamberofbeauty.com/

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    1. Oh, thank you so much! It was difficult in the first few weeks, especially as I had always been a home body but it did get easier. Thank you so much, I am glad you enjoyed reading this.

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Hey! They say communication is a two-way street. I would really appreciate you leaving a comment!

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