The Afam Guide to not Sounding Nigerian and stuff

Originally published on

Now, I can’t teach you to sound American. I find the American accent impossible. However, chances are that if you sent me to New York, I’d pick one up in no time at all. My accent has no staying power. It has no sense of self. It doesn’t seek to defend itself from the brutal ways of others. Chances are, by the end of next year, I’ll sound like the average Lagosian, but I don’t particularly mind this.
This is the main reason why I sound the way I do now. I sound like I’ve only holidayed in Nigeria. I don’t sound like I was born here, and I definitely don’t sound like I lived here for 17 years out of my 23. For those of you who don’t know the way I sound, I’ll describe it. My voice is appropriately deep. Upon hearing me, you’ll find no reason to wonder about the location of my testicles, and for those of you that do, they’re where testicles tend to be. I pronounce every word properly, and I try not to say, “like” and “sort of” because those give the impression that you’re not very well spoken. My accent is some sort of British-Nigerian hybrid, with the rare Indian twang. I didn’t ask for it. It was gifted to me by situation and station. In Nigeria, this is a very good accent to have as Nigerians don’t like to sound Nigerian.

Before I begin in earnest, we must first talk about what it is to sound Nigerian. To sound Nigerian, is to sound poor. Two of the symbols of wealth here are exposure, and education. A sign of exposure is the civility of your tongue. If your Nigerian accent sounds like it has been tainted with that of a great other (sorry Ghana, you aren’t included here) then you’ve done well for yourself. A sign of education that is often overlooked is the quality of your speech. A Nigerian who speaks very well, in a Nigerian accent cannot be said to speak like a Nigerian.

So that in your quest to sound Nigerian, you do not come across as a Nigerian who’s trying desperately to not sound Nigerian, I’ve created the Afam Odi guide, to not sounding Nigerian.

1.     Do your best to hang with people who sound like you want to sound. Do not study how they speak and how they sound. If you study it, then you’ll be looking to replicate it, and that’s not the way forward. If you replicate it, you’ll develop a quite good fake accent, but the time will come when you slip up and you’ll let everyone know that you are a fraud.  All you have to do is chill with them. If you do, then chances are they’ll serve as sandpaper for your garish tongue.

2.     Read your dictionary. The dictionary is a very good tool to have if you want to sound Nigerian. Most Nigerians, stress every syllable of every word. They pronounce education like ED-U-CA-TION instead of eduCAtion. While on the dictionary point, do not use the dictionary like a thesaurus. While braggadocio is a synonym of show off and boaster, it is often better to use the latter than it is to use the former. Big words should only be used when there are no other words that can possibly do the job as well. The principal function of language is to communicate. You are not meant to use your vocabulary to beat the people you’re speaking to into submission.

3.     Master your tenses.

4.     The singularity and plurality of the subjects you refer to are just as important as the subjects themselves. For example, Nigerians have an obsession with youth (young people). They say things like, the youths are unemployed, the youths are ruining the country and the youth are immoral, but it should really only ever be the “youth” and not the “youths”. If in doubt say young people. When you do that you’re in no danger of  saying young peoples, which is mostly wrong.

5.     Watch ‘My Fair Lady’. Yes, the musical with Audrey Hepburn. You really need to be able to say, “In Hereford, Hartford, and Hampshire, hurricanes hardly occur”. If you’re a very Yoruba individual, then the previous sentence may be your kryptonite, but work through it and you’ll get there. As long as you can breathe, you can pronounce an h.

If you succeed in doing all this, the moment you speak, people will wonder where in Mayfair your apartment is, and when you insist that you do not have one, they will hold fast to the belief that you’re lying, especially when you aren’t.

Happy Days,
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