English came by boat

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


You see, I come from a little village on the slopes of Mt Kenya.  I went to school where English was taught 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, you know – the ones that feel like barbed wire to your ears – and had no training at all.  When I went to high school, it was slightly better but the seed had been planted when you think you 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 down.

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.

Imagine this….

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 say repeatedly…. ‘cut, cut, cut’ but it always comes out as ‘cat’ no matter how hard I try or how 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/hard 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

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

Be kind….

So please next time you find yourself colleaguing, befriending, debating with a Kikuyu, spare a thought and have your brain pull double shifts 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!!!!’



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  1. 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.

  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. 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

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