Why Do We Shun Our Mother Tongue?

I have just about had enough rolling of my eyes with some people who can easily tell you that, “Oh, my child doesn’t speak Shona” or “We couldn’t help her with her homework because we didn’t know the answers I can’t believe how hard Grade 1 Shona is” and yet there they are born and bred in Zimbabwe and 100% Shona.  You grew up speaking the language from day 1 and yet you want to take that away from your children?  Apparently this “not speaking in Shona” is supposed to be something admirable and it still puzzles me because in my opinion all you are doing is stopping your child from learning an important part of themselves.  Let me give you a real life example.

My older sister has a son, who is now 15 years old.  When he was a little baby my sister insisted that we only communicate with him in English and nothing else.  If the little boy his age who lived in the cottage by their house came to play with my nephew and he spoke to him in Shona he was quickly asked to leave because he was not helping with my nephew’s English speaking learning skills.   When my nephew got older he would visit my grandmother who didn’t know how to speak in English and she had a hard time conversing with him.  Sad right?  So very sad if you ask me.  In my sister’s world she was happy because by now he had a proper English accent and no trace of Shona speaking in his veins.  Now that he is all grown up we still don’t know if it’s okay to speak to him in Shona or stick to English because we have never heard him speaking in our mother tongue so it just makes everything so uncomfortable for everyone.  (I hope my sister doesn’t get to read this she will be absolutely pissed off with me!)  As it stands now my nephew is doing well in all his school subjects except for Shona.  At Form 3 he has to go for Extra Shona Classes.  Imagine parting with money to get someone to teach your child his mother tongue?  Absolutely ridiculous!!

What makes it even funnier is that there are white people who actually speak fluent Shona and yet here we are acting like we are too cool for it.  Then there are the coloured folks who act like they can’t hear a single word of Shona…I could really go in on this but that will take forever and a day.



Anyways, who am I to judge, one must feel free to teach his or her child whatever language they see appropriate for their growth as an individual.  I have a daughter who I started speaking to in Shona because I wanted her to be fluent in communicating with everyone around her.  It was only last year when she started going to Nursery School she started to learn how to speak in English.  Right now she can fluently communicate in both Shona and English.  I actually wish I knew a third or fourth language because that way she would grow up to be multilingual.

I was doing a bit of research on the multilingual subject this morning and below are some of the benefits of being multilingual for both your child and yourself as well:

  • You can understand and appreciate cultural references and nuances.
  • Multilingualism can create job opportunities and help you navigate the world.
  • You notice and appreciate the things that are sometimes lost in translation.
  • You feel a sense of connection with your heritage, history and family.
  • Your interactions with people of different cultures go deeper.
  • And lastly, your self-expression excitingly takes on a multitude of forms.   (points taken from www.huffingtonpost.com)

I want to know your thoughts on this subject.

  1. Do you think a child should be exposed to exclusively one language?
  2. Do you have people in your country who also shun their mother tongue?
  3. What do you think is the real reason behind parents not wanting their children to speak their mother tongue.




22 thoughts on “Why Do We Shun Our Mother Tongue?

  1. No, children should be exposed to all possible languages.
    I have very young cousins who speak shona ndebele and english just like me.
    They know who to speak to in each of these languages. Grandma is ndebele they speak to her in ndebeleand to other ndebele speaking relatives in ndebele. They speak to the rest of us in English and shona, they have learnt to differentiate who speaks what.
    In as much as we want our children to speak good English, it doesn’t mean it should be at the expense of our mother tongue.

    Liked by 2 people

    • WOW impressive stuff! Imagine how easy it will be for them to converse when they travel to say Bulawayo or South Africa?
      I am glad to hear that they are multilingual, I wish the same for my daughter because believe me it will make a huge difference for her when she grows older, the advantages are priceless.
      Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts.


  2. I think a child should speak their mother tongue language as their first language! I don’t have kids of my own but I will make sure my kids will learn Chichewa first. I had this very same conversation with my big sister who has 3 beautiful kids; the younger ones are girls and the nursery schools they went to insisted that they were spoken to in English both at home and school. I disagreed still disagree for the simple reason of communication. No matter how much English I speak there are still some things/times where I feel more comfortable speaking in my mother tongue because there are just certain words and feelings that I can clearly and freely explain in Chichewa.

    On the other hand I have also seen how not speaking your mother tongue makes you feel handicapped of some sort. From all my siblings am the only one that can not fully converse in Chisenga which is the language spoken at my father’s home village. I can hear everything they are saying but I can not speak it, I feel so uncomfortable whenever I go there. I feel like am not part of my own people. Language is about identity too.

    The same with how when I travel to some parts of Africa I can not converse with my own brothers and sisters. So I made the decision to make my kids (when I do have kids) to learn Chichewa, Swahili, french and English.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am happy to note I wasn’t going on about nothing. It only makes sense to base her with her own mother tongue. Like you said, “Language is about identity too.” How will my nephew be identified as a Zimbabwean if he can not speak Shona?
      Is it too late for you to start learning how to speak Chisenga? If not I say give it a try. At least you can actually hear what they are saying and that’s a start.
      I am behind you the whole way on making sure when you have your own kids you will teach them a variety of languages, they will thank you for that.
      Have you noticed that the English people themselves go an extra mile to learn 3,4 or even more languages but we are too stuck up to do the same and insist on English only.


  3. I think I read somewhere that the more languages you can speak the more efficient your brain processes data, it might not make you smarter, but it comes darn close, and the longer you live, I dont know how far true the last bit is.

    I guess somewhere along the line we got caught up in the myth that speaking in perfect English (with the proper British accent) is a way of saying we have arrived, probably part of an elaborate brainwash scheme by imperial colonial overlords to mentally mess us up.
    The other day witnessed a debate in bar grown men, drunk, but grown men nevertheless, almost having a fist fight over a debate that you can tell a person’s intelligence by their proficiency in the English language.

    At the primary school I went, we used to speak in English only; except during the shona lesson, otherwise “The Shona speaker” got to wear a card written Shona Speaker around their neck like the scarlet letter A, noone wanted this and oh how the other kids would jeer (and if you had it at the end of the day you would have to do a chore)
    I never wore said card, in my seven years of primary school and for my efforts i got 5 units and a two in Shona and everyone was like Shona dont count ha!!!

    In my defence Shona is not my mother language but it might as well be, and I speak it better than my mother language and my grandparents spoke fluent English so that did not help matters.

    Bottom line teach your kids whatever you want french even and some Esperanto too but not so they look down upon their mother langauge, their culture and forget who they are.
    thats my two cents *sips coffee* and its gotten cold this was meant to be a one sentence comment

    Liked by 1 person

    • OMG a badge to match your “Shona Speaking Ways?” Unbelievable!!
      We also had a Shona Speaking list at my primary school but the way you guys went on about giving them a chore and everything, now that was just deep!
      I am curious to find out what your mother tongue is?
      As for the men fighting let’s just forgive them and blame it on the alcohol. I do agree with one of your statements though, “somewhere along the line we got caught up in the myth that speaking in perfect English (with the proper British accent) is a way of saying we have arrived, “

      Liked by 1 person

  4. My mother tongue is Luo. I speak it frequently, and very well too. Given, my Luo speaking tones slip into my English so one can tell my tribe just by hearing me speak in English-but I am proudly Luo. My nieces and nephews all speak Luo, English and Swahili, and they will probably add to this growing up. Learning all kinds of languages is important, but we should not forget our roots.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I had to search on Google to find out which country speaks Luo. Your nephews are lucky, a whole 3 languages will go a long way.
      Our roots are a part of us, how do we live through life without them…I wish more people understood this.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I think we should give our children the opportunity to be exposed to as many languages as possible. Who knows which language will help them when. I was privileged enough to have grown up speaking Shona(Mother tongue), Ndebele(coz of the step mother), English, Chichewa, Setswana, Zulu, Xhosa, French & Portuguese. Mainly coz my parents migrated a lot. But believe me when I say that the opportunities that I’ve come across are just…[I’ll leave the last bit to your imagination].

    Imagine going to a foreign land now & being able to comfortably communicate with ppl there.. It’s good for ppl to realise that English isn’t spoken everywhere on this Earth, & by limiting the languages your child is exposed to, you are actually limiting their doors of opportunity. I went to Angola & Mozambique & came across a handful of english speakers

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for reading Olla. And thank you again from the wonderful insight. I don’t think people realise just how powerful language is. Like you mentioned, imagine finally visiting France and being able to actually speak French you learnt throughout the years. It will definitely be a priceless feeling.
      And imagine if you even ventured into being a translator, the money that will just roll into your life while you hold down your day job….
      Life is too short to limit yourself if you ask me.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. This is a subject I have come across a lot lately. I must do a post to share my experience raising children in a foreign country. Most Nigerians are bilingual by the time they are two. Local language at home, English at school.
    I am one of the lazy parents who didn’t take advantage of speaking Yoruba to my children from early age. I was afraid they’d lag behind in class – yea, I was totally wrong.

    Now my daughters (7 & 8) are supper aware of advantage of knowledge of additional languages and are very keen to learn so we have started an experiment that I speak Yoruba directly to them at home. It is easier than I thought as alphabet is quite similar and they can write what they hear down. It is exciting so far.

    If I have to do it over, I would chose to speak Yoruba to them from birth. I don’t understand anyone in home country not teaching children street language.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Please do share your experience and send me the link once you are done.
      I am glad your daughters are willing to learn and you have taken the lead into helping them do so. It’s something they will forever be grateful for and it will even be better if you get them to learn more languages.
      I thought this only happened in Zimbabwe but I have realised it some some African countries are also suffering from this problem of depriving our children the chance to learn their mother tongue.
      Thank you for reading and I am looking forward to your post.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I sure will tag you on the language post.

        They learn French at school from reception and at year 5 German is included – throughout their time out school, they make several visits to France and German villages to help deepen knowledge.

        Lots of kids in my girls class are bilingual especially the Europeans and the Chinese – this is one of the big incentives for the girls as they too want to be able to have conversational language outside of school curriculum.

        Raising awareness is quite important, so thanks for sharing your perspectives on this.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I am part coloured and part Zambian. Worst part was me trying to speak in shona to my shona friends and them discouraging me cos “I should stick to my language”. No one wanted me to communicate with them in shona cos I sounded funny to them which was really sad. But I learnt to speak it despite the circumstances with my ” funny accent ” and all and I love it. I speak nyanja too with my funny accent too cos my mums family were all “they are makharadi so they can’t speak nyanja” on us. Hated it cos they deprived me of the opportunity to learn freely. I have cousnins that are of the “coloured” persuasion that insist they have no idea what anyone says to them when they speak to them in shona and I find it absolutely hilarious. How do you not know how to understand shona? And think it’s cool? Ah well power to all the people teaching their sons and daughters their language. It’s the only way to go .


    • I am proud to hear that you went all out and still learnt Shona either way. I know the accent may sound funny but the important part is that you can speak it and you understand it.
      I remember back in High School most coloured girls spoke fluent Shona except a few who like you said “had no idea what anyone says to them..” It only just shows ignorance if you ask me. How does one live in a country all their life and not be able to speak the language and think it’s actually okay?
      Now that I know you should speak Nyanja you should teach me 🙂
      I hope you are teaching your son all the languages you speak.


  8. Pingback: Learning Yoruba in diaspora | Ori Yeye nii Mogun

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