I almost gave up on learning my mother tongue

There is a nice feeling that comes with speaking your local dialect

In Summary

• It is possible to learn our local dialect the same way we learn foreign languages  

• Though late, I am halfway on my journey to becoming a fluent Kalenjin speaker

Image: FILE

I almost gave up on learning more about my culture and, more so, learning my mother tongue, but I can say I am making progress. So far, so good.  

This is on top of learning French as an additional language. 

Even though my mother had raised us with the “mother tongue influence ruins good English,” mentality, things are very different today. 

In fact, my mother is my first Kalenjin language teacher. Everything I know about my culture, people and language is thanks to her. 

Ever since I was young, I had so many reservations about learning and speaking Kalenjin.  

The urge to learn my mother tongue came about when I started attending family Koito (traditional weddings) and church weddings and seeing my cousins speak the language, and yet they were born and bred in Nairobi, just like me. 

On the last wedding I attended of one distant cousin, I had a chance to speak to my uncle, who disclosed to my mum and I how he found a tutor for his son, who taught him the Kalenjin language before his wedding.  

Remember more than a year ago, when I mentioned how marriage has been a hovering topic in my life, and how some of my extended family members have been on my neck on introducing someone? The case is still the same to date. 

I can still feel the pressure, although my mother feels indifferent and supports my decision of not being ready yet.  

When the marriage talks take centre stage, they go as far as my mother being asked if I can speak and understand my mother tongue.  

I do not know what kind of realisation my mum has had so far, but she has been very intent in helping me learn the language as I continue to seek further assistance from my uncles and aunties.  

When learning the language, I realised that there are so many words and phrases that are similar to other local dialects.  

While I was having a discussion with my mum on how best to quickly learn a language, she mentioned that so many African languages are similar. And I agree.  

“Sometimes, when you listen to people of Bantu origin speak, their dialect seems closely related, mutually intelligible. This is the same for us Kalenjins, who are of Nilotic origin,” she said.  

“You can know Kalenjin today and when you go to South Sudan, it might be kind of easy for you to learn their local dialect.” 

A colleague who speaks Luo, in a different conversation environment, talked of how it is easy for them to learn Lingala alongside Luo.  

Which got me thinking of the few weeks I had travelled to Rwanda. I learnt that one of my close friends who went to study there was able to speak basic Kinyarwanda, and she learnt the language in just under one month. 

I was in awe. The only thing I learnt when I was there was to say 'Hello', 'Thank You' and 'Welcome' in Kinyarwanda.  

My mother also mentioned how she loved the fact that her late father, my grandfather, was able to speak most local dialects.  

Even though I never really got the chance to learn from him, my mum always talks of how he would speak Kamba, Kalenjin, Kikuyu Kigiriama and even Kamba.  

This goes to show that even though our generation today receives a lot of backlash for not knowing their mother tongue, it is very much possible to learn our local dialect the same way we learn foreign languages.  

The time is there and the tutors are there; we just need to create interest and be consistent. 

Local dialect is a form of cultural identity, and we should embrace it.  

It is up to the learner to decide how fast they learn, speak and comprehend the language.  

To those who understand their mother tongue, speaking in your local dialect has a nice touch and feeling to it, as well as positive pride. 

I can confidently say that I know the basics of the Kalenjin language, and I am halfway on my journey to becoming a fluent Kalenjin speaker.  

In future, when I host my Koito and finally conform to the pressure, at least I will feel proud that I know more about my culture and, as far as language is concerned, I can confidently converse in my local dialect.  

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