• Tola Coker

Life Of A Monolingual

Updated: Oct 14, 2020

If you’re like me, you know the struggle of this question. Personally, I feel like I’ve heard it a thousand times.

As a second-generation immigrant, maybe you know all too well about growing up in a household that’s from a different culture from the rest of your peers, this means a different language being spoken at home; for some anyway. That may also mean you have an uncommon name, or that you dress differently. It may even mean you were lucky enough to speak and understand two languages, at least.

But what happens when you weren’t exposed to a part of your culture when growing up? In my Yoruba household, my parents didn’t bother to speak their native tongue. I heard occasional phrases, mostly when getting scolded or threatened with a slipper, but it was never introduced to me seriously.

Studies suggest that for a child to be able to speak several languages they need to be taught from as early as the first year of their lives, as this is the time they start to narrow down ranges of sound.

Although I heard phrases here and there, I am still utterly clueless, and now that I’m older I wish my parents spoke Yoruba at home all the time.

There were a multitude of times where, whether it be at home, family gatherings or even on social media, where I’ve witnessed white people speaking perfect Yoruba or Pidgin, and I feel disconnected from my parents and my heritage.

It never truly affected me as a young child, but as an adult, who now takes strong pride in her culture, I feel lost and alienated. My peers who grew up in similar households seem to all be at least bilingual.

I feel this pressure, especially because my name ‘Eyitoluwase’ means “this is what the lord has done” in Yoruba, meaning that people from my family and personal life expect more from me regarding my heritage. Family gatherings are strained, where a multitude of conversations start in Pidgin or Yoruba, and all I can respond with is,

“Sorry, what was that?”

I’m not angry at my parents, but I wish that they had taken the time to speak Yoruba at home when I was younger, if only so I could cuss people out without them understanding me. But for now, I guess I have to settle with holding my tongue.

For those of us who are monolingual, we want so badly to connect to our heritage that we forget there are other ways to become a part of it. It doesn’t mean that we can never learn, just that it’s going to take a little bit more work.

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