For all my life I have known isiXhosa. Its clicks run deep in my veins. In every part of my life it spreads out like roots holding a gigantic tree. isiXhosa defines who I am. But through my life I have been exposed to other languages that define me as a South African.
The first time I spoke English was in Grade 3 when I taught myself how to say my name because some moderators were coming to examine the school. For me, it was not about getting the meaning behind what I was taught, but pronouncing the words correctly. I was intimidated by the tall white guy dressed all in black but with a white collar around his neck who taught us.
When I started high school I felt like an alien. I struggled to communicate with teachers because I did not understand the English words. I had to adapt quickly because I had to speak at a school assembly. I noticed the girl who stood in front of me. She seemed so comfortable and pronounced every word without any mistakes. My body felt numb, heart was racing. Suddenly my under arms were drowning in water, my hands were slippery and my ears were burning. But I had to do it. I had to speak clearly and care about every word I said.
When I started high school I wrote my name over and over, signing up for every club I discovered. My English skills were really put to the test when I had to host a white guy. When he arrived at my school it was fun with all my friends making jokes and chatting to him. I was so excited that he was coming to my house for the night. But when we got home I could not start the simplest conversation with him.
I paced up and down smiling and changing the television channel every minute or so. I feared that if I said the wrong thing I would ruin the reputation of my school. The only plan I had was to be sleepy because if I went to bed first, he would go to his bed. For so long I thought I had conquered my fear of speaking English until that moment.
At last, this year, when I was told that I was doing English as a Home Language, people finally believed in me. I was capable of more than what I thought I was.
My experiences with language has helped me to build my self-confidence and be able to network with people. I am no longer afraid to make mistakes because only my mistakes make me a better speaker. I no longer fear to approach someone who speaks a different language from mine because my challenges have made me a stronger person.
South Africa has eleven official languages. I can only speak two languages, but I won’t stop there. I want to greet in Afrikaans, “Goeie more,” ask for help in seSotho, “Kupa unthuse,’ so all the eleven languages can run in my blood and I can be proudly South African.
My mind now is like sour milk in a sachet. Everything is ready to explode, explore, and experience other languages.