About the Blog

United Hearts Children Center is located in Bawjiase, Ghana. It is currently home to 25 children, who are excited to move into their NEW home in the next few months. We are continuing fundraising to complete the project and have just started to fundraise for the United Hearts Community School. Check them out in my links!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Was there a language barrier?

This, hands down, was the most frequently asked question when I returned from my first stay in Ghana. Yeah, people wanted to know what I did and what it was like and how I ended up there, but more than that they just really, really wanted to know if we spoke the same language. Such a simple question, but like everything else I was asked, I really wasn't sure of the answer.

"Ehh, not really," was often my response. They speak a little English, I speak a little of their language. The problem with speaking a little of their "language" is that no one seems to know what language that is. Twi is (I think) the national language after English, but I am under the impression that people wouldn't understand if I were to speak Twi in other regions of Ghana. Fante is the designated local language, spoken in the central region (I think). And no, these are not all speculations about where languages are spoken because I just don't know. They are speculations because no one seems to know.

I know how to say a fair amount in the language of Not English, but every time I ask someone if it's Twi or Fante I get one of two answers. "I don't know" or "It is both." Although the people of Bawjiase have no problem communicating with each other in whatever language they are speaking and often struggle speaking to us with their minimal amounts of English and our minimal amounts of Not English, there seems to be something wrong with calling it a Language Barrier. And the only explanation I can think of for why it cannot be named this is because of confusion.

We often joke about how the people of Bawjiase are just very confused, and although I'm sure it seems this way because of the limited verbal communication we have, I think it can also be credited to the fact that no one ever seems to really know what is going on regardless of what language is being spoken. When I ask people questions in Not English, I get different answers depending on the person, place, and/or time, and when I wear certain clothes or do certain things, I evoke different reactions, with women on one side of market commenting on my tank tops and the way my fabric is wrapped, and women on the other side of market complimenting me on my outfit. People say they will do one thing and do the opposite, and when you arrange to meet someone in town at 3 PM on Monday it only makes sense that they will stop by your house to meet at 9 AM on Thursday.

Interestingly enough, the children at United Hearts :D seem to be the only people who do not have conversations based on confusion with us. They don't necessarily speak a lot of English, but they certainly understand a lot, and when we tell them to do things they either A) do it or B) choose not to do it and smirk at us instead, blatantly doing the opposite to bother/spite/make fun of us. When the kids are fighting and we ask what is happening, they explain it to us, and surprisingly the story is always the same no matter which child you ask. I don't know if the lack of confusion is due to the fact that the children have spent much more of their life around people not from Bawjiase than the rest of the obibinis we meet, or that we speak the language of children better than Not English, but spending time around the children can somehow be relieving. However, it is also more frustrating, because understanding means that we can't just shrug things off and chalk it up to being confused, and instead have to actually acknowledge whatever situation is going on.

Alas, the point of this boring post is... well, I'm not sure. It's only fitting that you probably found it confusing, and to the people who are going to need to communicate with me when I return home, I apologize for the incomprehensible conversations that we will likely have.

Also, send the snow clouds this way, as it still hasn't rained and we are quickly running out of water.


  1. Actually fascinating Bec. I think language and communication is really interesting and enjoyed learning about this in cultural anthropology. Think of how much trouble each of us sometimes has in understanding one other in the same culture! What is also really interesting is the "work around" in the communication. For example, getting to the airport on time! Or is that a different form of communication?

  2. I, too, thought this post was really interesting; maybe it's an old-people thing (sorry Cookie!). And, I too, remember things like this from my cultural anthropology days! I've been thinking a bit recently about language acquisition and literacy; interesting to think about it in another culture.