English came by boat

Until I started mingling with the very very wider community I didn’t realise just how badly my accent distorted the meaning of messages I tried to convey to people.  I’d write clear understandable Queen’s English until I’m asked to elaborate orally!

You see I come from a little village on the slopes of Mt Kenya.  I went to school where we were taught English in our mother tongue!! My mother tongue’s alphabet is nowhere near the English alphabet but we were made to recite it out loud and as often as possible. 99.999 percent of the teachers in my school had very strong accents and had no training at all.  When I went to high school, it was slightly better but the seed had been planted, if you think we spend 8 years of impressionable age being taught by half evolved beings.  I passed my primary school English very well so I assumed I had that nailed.

Then I went to live in the diaspora. It’s ok when one talks sensibly and clearly but woe unto those who try to imitate the British local accents and all hell breaks loose – but that’s another story for another day.

So when my father yelled “you have to be a rat at all times to make it in life!!” I knew what he meant.

When I say to my dotcom daughter “I have a cat in my mouth” She understands because I have taught her the fundamentals of the kikuyu language, yes language. However, she’ll make me repeatedly say ‘cut’ but I will still say ‘cat’ no matter how hard I try and how I much I love her.

She’ll (secretly) roll her eyes and think “Don’t get me started on sheep/ship, meet/meat, bye/buy, address/a dress, hurt/heart, heard/had etc etc. And the various forms her name has been pronounced by various aunties and uncles!! One of the various aunties once asked me “why would you put so many Ls in a name!! NKT”. “At least it’s not Brenda!!” I would say

But when I tell my doctor that “my hut/hat has been beating illegularly” he’s all of 1500 shades of confused!!

So please next time you find yourself colleaguing, befriending, debating with a kikuyu spare a thought and have your brain pull double shift because he might say things like “rust night I washed I lobot, vely good movie” it could have been worse, he could have ‘woojed I rrropot!!!!’



  1. Esther you have nailed it!!! The struggle is real
    I must say though, I think we get too concious and try too hard just to end up getting it wrong

  2. You are a Star E-STAR as always. You managed to narrate the circumstances very clearly and make all who read your piece understand it with no effort…. You know many people are not aware of the numerous adjustments we need to make to make people understand us, or understand where we are coming from… across the seas… PONGEZI!!!

  3. So true! I came back from a holiday in Kenya speaking English with my Kenyan accent, my son said ‘ mama’ then laughed, my daughter’s reply to that simple word was, ‘ give her three days and she will be back to normal’ We adapt wherever we are to fit it.

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