“Don’t touch me on my grammar!”

2014-10-14 11:33

At a recent gathering of economic opinion makers I observed an English speaker continuously correct a native Afrikaans speaker’s grammar during their conversation. I could see how embarrassing it was for the lady as she was constantly being corrected. When she finally had enough she said to the obnoxious man: “Can you speak Afrikaans?” He answered no. Her priceless response: “So then shut the hell up when I’m talking and stop trying to make me look like an idiot. English is my second language. Do you speak a second language?” He shook his head and slunk away.

Joy filled my soul.

I’ve been fortunate. My mother is English and my father Afrikaans and each speaks to us in their mother tongue. Being a writer, I am expected to have a knack for language. However, English and Afrikaans are only two of South Africa’s many official languages. So I would guess most of us are often faced with conversing with others who do not speak our language – whatever that may be – as a first language.

I’ve never understood why somebody would feel the need to correct somebody’s speech in a conversation. Sometimes, it’s not even grammar but the mispronunciation of a name. Sure, the answer is always “I’m just helping them.” I don’t buy it. In fact, I believe you’re satisfying your own need for dominance, superiority or whatever it is.

I knew a woman who’d correct someone and then chuckle loudly. She could hardly string a single sentence together in any other language besides English but felt the need to correct English second-language speakers.

I am not trying to make an example of native English speakers. You find this among Afrikaans-speakers too, my friend, who despite being an English boy from KZN , is fluent in Afrikaans, tells me that he too has been laughed at by Afrikaans speakers for making mistakes. For myself, as I’ve had to use English more and more, my own Afrikaans has grown poorer. So at times I find myself at a loss for the correct Afrikaans word and then I automatically replace it with the English alternative. This has led to very awkward situations within Afrikaans journalistic and literary circles. I’ve been forced to swallow many a slice of humble pie while being simultaneously smacked with the dictionary.

It is embarrassing. It is completely unnecessary. One of the first things I was taught as a budding scriptwriter is that people do not speak as they write. The spoken word is a lot more fluid and this should be considered when we interact with one another.

I spent the first few months of this year as a coach at a rugby club in Langa. It was astonishing how the players that were not comfortable with speaking English would refrain from speaking to me in fear of being humiliated. Yet, when I would attempt my broken Xhosa/Zulu marriage I was only greeted with words of encouragement. It made me want to learn and speak more.

It is here that I learnt a little patience and tact can go a long way. Rather, be an example of good speech and be asked to help than offer it where it is not wanted is my new philosophy.

News24 Voices Terms & Conditions.


AB praises selfless skipper

2010-11-21 18:15

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.