Johnny Foreigner

My good advice to “Johnny Foreigner”

When I am about the town, and I hear all these foreign immigrants nattering away in their languages, and when I am in shops and hear them speaking pidgin English with heavy accents, it makes me feel really superior.

I think; 'they are going to have a really tough time and will never become really British unless they pull their finger out'.

I came to England in 1955 when I was fifteen, alone! This was the end of my formal education. The first thing I did was to get a job and my weekly pay packet, before deductions was twenty-five shillings (£1.25). My English was atrocious, but then, it was my third language after Afrikaans and Zulu.

Apart from my job, my first action was to buy The Times (this was when it was a proper newspaper, with the “small” adverts on the front page).

Wikipedia says of the Times: On 3 May 1966 it resumed printing news on the front page - previously the front page featured small advertisements, usually of interest to the moneyed classes in British society. In 1967, members of the Astor family sold the paper to Canadian publishing magnate Roy Thomson, The Thomson Corporation merged it with The Sunday Times to form Times Newspapers Limited.

This was, in my opinion, (which hasn't changed since) the end of a great institution. The Times was no longer “The Thunderer”.

Each day, I would read the editorial, underlining words I didn't understand, until I had underlined five words. I then stopped reading and looked them up in a dictionary so I fully understood them, and then made a point of using them that day. I firmly believed a new word wasn't mine until I had used it in conversation. It was a full year before I could read the entire editorial without underlining more than a single word. In addition to this, I worked in the evenings and weekends to earn extra money and went to a speech therapist to change my guttural Afrikaans accent into a more smoother English Accent. This, in a way, I have always regretted. When I go to South Africa on holiday, as soon as shopkeepers here the timbre of my voice they switch to English automatically-even though I speak in Afrikaans!

It must have been successful as, after this first year in England, I moved to America and people where were convinced I was English.

So my advice to Johnny Foreigner (how English I have become) is, leave your own people, mix with English people, or if that is difficult (you're married or sharing a flat with others from home) insist, at least, that you all speak English. If you have babies, and you want them to be totally bilingual, speak to them in English one day and your language the next day. That is how I learned Zulu (with our Zulu nanny).

Dit is goeie raad / Lesi yiseluleko esihle / This is good advice