A spelling bee in Twi

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Learning Twi before English in a Ghanaian classroom. Note the two extra vowels--a backwards "3" and a backwards "c"--and the absence of consonants c, j, v and z.

We were in a village selecting a new Burro reseller the other day, sitting in an empty classroom. Nii, who is one of Whit’s managers, was interviewing the young man applying for the job. “Why do you want to be a Burro reseller?” Nii asked. The man stuttered and fumbled; his English simply wasn’t good enough to answer what was admittedly a hard (i.e. non-yes-or-no) question. When Nii gave him permission to answer in Twi, the words flowed. It was fitting that we were in a classroom, where at least theoretically Ghanaian children are taught English. But up on the blackboard was a Twi alphabet, with its strange vowel additions and missing Western letters. I wondered why, if Ghana’s education system is in English, the children were learning the Twi alphabet. Rose said they learn the Twi letters first, then the English version. Now I get it.

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