English is not a single language; it’s a colonial relic. I doubt if the English speak their own language. Years ago, the University of Ilọrin issued me a Bachelor of Arts in the language after four years of intense studies complete with delays caused by ASUU strike. Years later, London’s City University awarded me a Masters in International journalism. I have a postgraduate diploma in Public Relations. All exams leading to the awards of these degrees were conducted in English. The official language of my country is – English. I have a mileage of nearly four decades reporting, writing and broadcasting in – English.
But for most official applications in Canada, a co-ordinately bilingual nation colonised by the English, I am asked to sit for the International English Language Testing System, IELTS exams! I understand major institutions in England are making it a precondition. I had to send my transcripts to a Canadian standardizing institution that does not come cheap for its services. IELTS doesn’t come free. And there’s hardly assurance that a candidate would pass!
To go to college here, I didn’t wait for transcripts to be sent to the accrediting institution, I took an aptitude test. As a result, in my college graduation year, I was not excused from taking the Use of English test. Protests that I had an English taught education, and that the British colonized my people and imposed its language on me fell on deaf ears. So I was back on a refresher about what makes a noun and other parts of speech. I had great teachers but I couldn’t get over feeling serially victimized.
Every time I am compelled to write an IELTS test, the anger in me wouldn’t make my brain work. I mean, English is to me what a hammer and nail is to a carpenter. Why do they find it so hard to accept? Yes, I have a freaking accent. Nobody should persecute me for that. We all have accents! Even the Queen has one and she knows how to use it. The Queen’s accent differs from that of Ms Offerall who taught me English literature in Secondary or is it High School? But High school is American, and nobody insults Canadians by calling them American.
Why are language students of the Queen’s Commonwealth required to take an IELTS test? What are they truly after? What does the oral component of the test examining, my comprehension of the language or my accent? There is no standardized English anywhere – not even in England.
In the years I’ve lived in Canada, I know how not to refer to a toilet as one. Calling it a John’s would bounce off wrongly on my audience. The appropriate noun for that place where we go when we need to go here is a washroom. I have learnt not to call chips French fries even in McDonalds, because these thinly sliced potatoes come in a different hue at Tim Hortons where they are baptised as wedges.
My car’s engine covering is a bonnet in England but a hood in Canada. Cars run on tyres in England, but buy one from Canadian Tire without tiring your audience here.
While we’re bouncing off rubbers; pray who invented American football? The object of play is different here – Canadians and Americans play an oval shaped football while in England footballs is a round leathery object, that one is called soccer in Canada. Both football and soccer have leagues. The Canadian League season is mostly associated with a different game – hockey! Trainers used to be called tennis, and both are foot coverings but a coach is not the guy who tells a player how to up his game, it’s a large vehicle like the ones the English call a bus!
Someone should reassure me that my IELTS examiner agrees its English if I spell the words valour, vigour, parlour and rumour without the ‘u’ since that part of the English grammar was lost while English was making the long journey to the Americas.
English is very confusing. From London through Ottawa to New York and Canberra, the English duplicated their cities. Africa must thank its stars that the English left before it could name all towns after the Queen as it did with Victoria Falls. The English are not very inventive, they have duplicated towns and cities all over their former colonies. What Canadians call Keys the English call Quays but nobody taught me that in the Use of English class. I had to figure it out for myself. No one informed me that slippers took the title of flip-flops or that trousers are called pants here. If my son returns with a huge bill for getting his braces from the dentist, I’d be shocked because it is only associated with holding oversized trousers. The same gadget gets called suspenders here as only dentists are licensed to work with braces.
Since there is no Academie Anglais a decree from Her Majesty might solve the riddle of who truly requires a language proficiency test. It’s sad to see officials ostensibly acting on Her Majesty’s orders milking us and wasting precious time and money. Maybe in the alternative, the rest of us who were taxed for speaking our languages in class – from Africa through India and the Caribbeans, should set up a Diaspora English Unification Test, DEUT for these fellow English users hoping to visit or work in our commonwealth countries. If our wealth is common, so should the difference in our tongues.
There’s a line from my country’s old national anthem that could be used here – though tribes and tongues may differ, in English we communicate. It’s been proven that the best users of the English language are not the natural inhabitants of the island of England with their confusion over whether to exist or Brexit, but those on whom the language was forced but who have found creative ways of making it write, speak and sound beautiful. If they fail, we should all take a lift or is it the elevator and let the English language tutor take the biscuit or the burn.
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