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Two years ago, I had a great opportunity to pursue higher education in one of the finest Norwegian universities, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology – NTNU. Life here has been interesting. Norway has exposed me to so much within a relatively short period of time.
I recall the day Yayra, Naa and myself arrived at our student village. We stood by the roadside deciding which way to go. Amidst the decision-making, and unknown to any of us, drivers using both sides of the road had stopped their vehicles. Apparently, we were standing close to a zebra crossing and the drivers had assumed we were about to cross the road so they had stopped, patiently waiting for us. For me, that was the first sign that we were in “aburokyire” since it was summer and the weather wasn’t so different from what we had left home. I recalled the popular Ghanaian joke about a guy who almost got knocked down by a car while trying to use a zebra crossing. The guy angrily asked the driver if he didn’t see the zebra crossing sign only for the driver to retort “Are you a zebra?” I believe there’s a lot we can learn from Norway as a country and that brings me to the point of this post.
Let’s think about something for a minute. The current population of the country Norway is 5,271,958, according to Worldometers. Ghana’s current population stands at 28,033,375, according to the same source. The Wikipedia article on the Norwegian language claims that the language was native to an estimated 5 million people as of the year 2014, with its speakers spread across Norway, parts of Midwestern United States and Sweden. The percentage of native speakers of the Akan language in Ghana, on the other hand, was pegged at 47.5% of the country’s overall population as per the 2010 Population and Housing Census by the Ghana Statistical Service. I hope you’re doing the calculation already. Now, that was just the percentage of native speakers. Most Ghanaians use the Akan language as their second language. Not just that, I read that a considerable percentage of the population of eastern Côte d’Ivoire use the Akan language as well. No, we are not done yet. Through slave trade, the Akan language found its way to parts of the Caribbean and South America. So I kept thinking about the numbers, and I hope you are too.
Interestingly, Akan is yet to be featured on the ever-popular Google Translate. And guess which language is. Yes, Norwegian. The truth is, I’m not that surprised. We cannot sell what we appear not to be proud of. One of the many lessons I’ve learnt from Norwegians is the fact that they cherish their language. They don’t have to tell you, the evidence is all over. Norwegians speak good English. Yet, they’re most likely to approach you with the Norwegian language. I cannot count how many times I’ve had to say “English please” to Norwegians.
My programme of study at NTNU was MPhil in English Linguistics and Language Acquisition. While the language medium of instruction was English, it was not uncommon to find instructions on exam papers given in both Norwegian and English. Yes, just in case you don’t get the English part despite your choice of academic programme. In some cases, students are even allowed to write their answers (essays) in the Norwegian language.
Call most Norwegian public offices and you’ll realise their voicemails are in Norwegian. Public signs, inscriptions on items sold in supermarkets/pharmacies, the language of TV programmes, etc., almost everything is in Norwegian. As if all these do not cause enough headaches for the average Ghanaian student, you try finding a part-time job and you are almost always asked “Snakker du Norsk?” (Do you speak Norwegian?). If your answer to this question is a “Nei” (No), you are most likely not going to be hired. Most often, the job you are seeking doesn’t even require you to speak with anybody!
So, I look back and wonder how Ghana would’ve been if we had a similar system. If we were to teach entirely in our various native languages. If we weren’t inscribing SPEAK ENGLISH boldly on the walls of our schools. If pupils weren’t punished in schools for speaking their mother tongues. If we didn’t equate the ability to rattle the Queen’s language with literacy. If we didn’t think of people as uncultured for speaking their native languages. If we hadn’t been code-mixing/switching so much that it is nearly impossible to come by a contemporary Ghanaian who speaks an impeccable local language. If… If I weren’t even writing this post in English, but in Twi, for example.
These thoughts motivated the setting up of LearnAkan.Com, a website to teach, learn and share knowledge about the Akan language. Believe it or not, there are Ghanaians and non-Ghanaians all over the world who would want to learn to speak the Akan language for various reasons. I set up this website, therefore, to teach the little I know to such people, for free. I’m by no means an expert on the language. Indeed, Akan (Asante Twi) is my first language, and I have had the opportunity of studying it from basic school, through high school, and at the university level. But that’s just about it. It is my hope, however, that the many linguist/Akan friends I’ve made over the years will join in to make this project a success. If you have any feedback, suggestion or question, please feel free to e-mail me via [email protected]. I set this website up on my own so if you notice any technical flaw, please e-mail me as soon as possible.
NB: The idea is to broaden the site’s scope with time by bringing in other tutors to teach few other popular dialects of the Akan language. For now, I am the website’s only tutor and I handle the Asante Twi dialect. Hence, all lessons currently on the website relate to this particular dialect, until further notice. Thank you, Nana Wiafe, for the suggestion.
With this, I declare the website www.learnakan.com, the Facebook Page LearnAkan.Com and the YouTube channel LearnAkan.Com officially launched! Please like the Facebook page and subscribe to the YouTube channel :).
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