Lekker, itafile, weak performance

South Africa has eleven official languages. The most spoken ones are English, Afrikaans and isiXhosa. My roommates are English natives, the lectures at the university and most information is in English. As I graduated in English linguistics and literature in my Bachelor Minor, accomplished a C1 English certificate and lived in an English-speaking shared flat for a while in Switzerland, I was confident regarding the language challenges.

Now, after two months, my confidence in my English skills has changed slightly. This has various causes. First, people often struggle with my very American Swiss accent because they are used to the British English or the Afrikaans English accent. The local English people also have embodied Afrikaans words, as for example “lekker”. “Lekker” means cool, tasty, positive, nice, good – something is “lekker” or it was a “lekker” day. Therefore, I started to pronounce some words differently and use this Afrikaans words, which is weird in my ear. Secondly, I hear a lot of Afrikaans, which is very close to Dutch and many words are even equal to the German expressions. Thirdly, I attend an isiXhosa course. The isiXhosa language uses the same vowels as German or Dutch and also, many English words are incorporated in this language. For example, a table is “itafile” and a drink is idrinki, which is easy for me to remember and pronounce. But it is not for native English-speaking individuals. I now sometimes have troubles with spelling. Fourthly, I received my first graded essay in an economics lecture with the comment “weak language”. Long story short, I do not feel self-confident in my communication these days. Because of the reasons I just named, but also because it does not meet my own expectations.

It is not very comfortable now, but I am sure I will overcome this phase by investing only little time in my English speaking and writing skills. It needs to refresh the correct use of tenses, some vocabulary and academic writing exercises. Up to now, I have invested no time at all and focused on my isiXhosa which is a challenge anyways with the click-sounds and the completely different language structure.

I have experienced this language barrier twice before, once in English and once in French. It is not unknown to me how it feels like to always be in the “weaker” position in discussions among native speakers. But as already mentioned, this period will pass.

Karin Kälin

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