The English language

I have a love-hate relationship with the English language. As you probably guessed, it’s not my mother tongue.

Popular language

In South Africa, most people can speak and understand English, but funnily enough, it’s the mother tongue of very few South Africans. I am one of those second-language English speakers.

More than that, I’m from a very, very Afrikaans family. The Afrikaans lines go way back. Most people at least have some English or African roots. Not my family, oh no, we are as Afrikaans as they get. (Although, I can only be sure once I’ve done one of those genealogy tests.)

I’m not ashamed to say it, I learnt all my English from watching television at a young age. Actually, I wish my mom would have exposed me to more languages as a child. Now I have to teach myself.

Bad English days

I love the English language because it is the language of British comedy (and I love me some British comedy) but some days the English gods just won’t give me a break.

Some days are just bad English days. On these days, I just seem to forget all of it, which is both ironic and inconvenient considering my job.

If I have been talking Afrikaans the whole day and I suddenly need to switch to English my mind also goes blank sometimes. Then I feel and sound like such an idiot.

It’s quite inconvenient when I’m writing and I forget the word for something in English. Also, when I’m teaching, I’ll forget the word for some common thing and it can be embarrassing.

It’s funny, but the angrier I get, the worse my English gets. I think we all revert to our mother tongue when emotions run high.

The misunderstandings

I’ve written about the misunderstandings there have been because of the difference between South African and American English, i.e. the confusion surrounding drug stores.

Also, we don’t use the word ‘cheeky’ in the British sense, as in being playful, etc. Rather, it has a negative connotation. If someone is cheeky, it means they have a bad attitude. You never want your Afrikaans mom to ask, “Are you being cheeky with me?”

I use it to my advantage

I’ve come to realise that I’m a bad person. Let me explain.

Where I live, most white people speak Afrikaans and are quite bad at English, especially the older generation.

So, when an Afrikaans person is rude to me or giving me grief, I switch over to English. Usually, the first reaction is confusion – it looks like their brain froze and they’re rebooting (with twitching eyes and quivering lip). They’ll struggle to talk English and then ask you why you won’t talk Afrikaans. That’s when I say, ‘Does it bother you? Can’t you speak the universal language?’

I said I was a bad person.

One day I want to pick a fight with an old lady, switch over to English, and when she asks why I don’t speak Afrikaans, I want to say: “I don’t speak your kitchen Dutch”.

Never say that to Afrikaans people, they will lose their minds. (But since it will be an old lady, what will she do?) In case you didn’t know, ‘kitchen Dutch’ is a derogatory term for Afrikaans – it’s history goes way back.

I think I have this fantasy because I live in Bloemfontein and there’s not much to do here.


Is English your second or third language? Can you relate to having bad English days? Let me know in the comments.



P.S. If you’d like to contact me, feel free to comment below, send an email to, or follow me on Twitter @M_ClutterBox.

The English language