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  • Isabella Naiduki

A Tale of Two Countries

I am a bilingual parent, not because we speak two languages at home, but due to the fact that I speak two languages, Fijian and English. My older two don't speak Fijian and that's down to my own laziness, I really can't be bothered to teach them because it requires the patience of a saint - which if I'm being quite honest, I have none. My 7 month old speaks Levi i.e. screams when he needs to eat; butt cleaned or needs sleep so he's not really that important in this post, lets leave him by the roadside, I mean out of this for now.

Language is such an important aspect in life, it tells you stories of where a person is from, it tells you their ancestry, their family secrets, their triumphs and defeats. Not a lot of resources is available for Fijian parents here in the UK who want to teach their children their paternal dialects or their maternal dialects even. My Dad is from Tailevu North or as we like to call it, the land of Milk & Honey, so our dialect is different to that of where my Mom is from, which is Nayau, in the Lau Group of Islands. Its unique to the part of Fiji we are from because of the words that are interchanged with the greetings or even everyday conversation. My Mom's island is notorious for the expletives that follow greetings & farewell, I was more or less desensitised to this growing up but in saying that, the Lauan dialect is like someone is singing to you, the lilt in their voices when they talk and the animated hand gestures when they're that into telling you a story is one I miss everyday. I speak both dialects fluently, mostly due to the fact that my mom spoke to us in her dialect and we grew up going to every Lauan function under the sun so you learnt it either way, and my Dad's because my cousins in the village spoke it when I would go for my school holidays so you picked it up one way or another.

I never really appreciated being able to speak two languages until I moved here to the UK. Although the Fijian language may not be a medium that is used by many, it is still quite a unique language and I feel as a parent who lives far beyond the seas from home, I am not doing what I should to preserve the language within my own family. My eldest moved here from Fiji at the age of 6 (she is now 12), she had just started school back home so literally did not speak a word of English. The first school she got enrolled into had her straight into Year 2, I had no idea what the education system here in the UK was like so I didn't realise that she had actually missed out on the basics that they teach at Reception level. I think it's madness that children start school at the age of 4 in this country but each to their own. The teachers at her first school were not very helpful and it took sheer determination on her part to get herself up to speed so as to catch up from learning ABC (which was where she was at in Fiji) to reading actual books in the space of 3 months. Because of the forced accelerated learning, we more or less put Fijian as a medium to converse with at home on the backburner and its just never recovered itself. She understands me when I speak it to her now, but finds it difficult to respond.

Earlier last year my Dad sent me my grandfather's Fijian bible to keep and also use, because he believes that one day this liberal Methodist girl will return to the pews and pray for her sins (Just kidding) I was probably the only one he thought of that would appreciate the gesture. Being the ambitious mother that I am, I decided to use it as a tool to get my eldest to brush up on her Fijian reading skills. Didn't turn out as well as I anticipated, infact we failed miserably. I cried, she cried, we almost died. My Dad then comes over for a visit and attempts to revive dying embers of the Fijian reading skills, that died a silent death as well. So now we are at loggerheads as to how we are going to teach these now British-Fijian children how to speak and read Fijian. To be quite honest, at the rate we are going, I think the Welsh family down the road have a better chance of teaching my children Welsh then I do Fijian.

I have now come to terms with the fact that I cannot control everything and that my world is slowly spinning out of control thanks to the three life-sucking dementors I spawned.. actually no, I've come to terms with the fact that the only way I can teach my children the Fijian language is to speak it to them on a daily basis as and when I can. I also cannot limit the Fijian words I use to that of just threats of selling them on eBay because that's illegal.. or is it? Or swears. I must really, really, REALLY try and curb my use of the colourful Fijian swears that I use on the bus driver who drove right past me as I waited at the cold bus stop and forgetting that my 5 year old is also there with me soaking in every syllable of the F-bombs I've just dropped and in doing so giving her the opportunity to repeat it at the most inopportune times.

I guess its back to the drawing board for this one in a million project.

From the land of Fijians and not so Fijians,

Bella X

Fijian In The UK - A Tale of Two Countries

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