Jamila Lyiscott is a “tri-tongued orator”.

In her powerful spoken-word essay “Broken English,” she celebrates — and challenges — the three distinct flavors of English she speaks with her friends, in the classroom and with her parents.

As she explores the complicated history and present-day identity that each language represents, she unpacks what it means to be “articulate.”

For TEFL teachers her essay reminds us that there is more than one ‘flavor’ of English. The next time you are asked that very common student question; “Which is the best English?”, you can use Jamila’s video as an introductory talking point!


0:11 Today, a baffled lady observed the shell where my soul dwells

0:17 And announced that I’m “articulate”

0:22 Which means that when it comes to enunciation and diction

0:26 I don’t even think of it

0:27 ‘Cause I’m “articulate”

0:30 So when my professor asks a question

0:32 And my answer is tainted with a connotation of urbanized suggestion

0:36 There’s no misdirected intention

0:38 Pay attention

0:39 ‘Cause I’m “articulate”

0:42 So when my father asks, “Wha’ kinda ting is dis?”

0:45 My “articulate” answer never goes amiss

0:48 I say “father, this is the impending problem at hand”

0:52 And when I’m on the block I switch it up just because I can

0:55 So when my boy says, “What’s good with you son?”

0:58 I just say, “I jus’ fall out wit dem people but I done!”

1:03 And sometimes in class

1:05 I might pause the intellectual sounding flow to ask

1:08 “Yo! Why dese books neva be about my peoples”

1:11 Yes, I have decided to treat all three of my languages as equals

1:15 Because I’m “articulate”

1:19 But who controls articulation?

1:22 Because the English language is a multifaceted oration

1:25 Subject to indefinite transformation

1:27 Now you may think that it is ignorant to speak broken English

1:30 But I’m here to tell you that even “articulate” Americans sound foolish to the British

1:36 So when my Professor comes on the block and says, “Hello”

1:39 I stop him and say “Noooo …

1:42 You’re being inarticulate … the proper way is to say ‘what’s good’”

1:46 Now you may think that’s too hood, that’s not cool

1:49 But I’m here to tell you that even our language has rules

1:52 So when Mommy mocks me and says “ya’ll-be-madd-going-to-the-store”

1:57 I say “Mommy, no, that sentence is not following the law

2:02 Never does the word “madd” go before a present participle

2:06 That’s simply the principle of this English”

2:08 If I had the vocal capacity I would sing this from every mountain top,

2:12 From every suburbia, and every hood

2:14 ‘Cause the only God of language is the one recorded in the Genesis

2:18 Of this world saying “it is good”

2:20 So I may not always come before you with excellency of speech

2:24 But do not judge me by my language and assume

2:26 That I’m too ignorant to teach

2:28 ‘Cause I speak three tongues

2:29 One for each:

2:30 Home, school and friends

2:32 I’m a tri-lingual orator

2:34 Sometimes I’m consistent with my language now

2:36 Then switch it up so I don’t bore later

2:38 Sometimes I fight back two tongues

2:40 While I use the other one in the classroom

2:42 And when I mistakenly mix them up

2:44 I feel crazy like … I’m cooking in the bathroom

2:48 I know that I had to borrow your language because mines was stolen

2:55 But you can’t expect me to speak your history wholly while mines is broken

3:00 These words are spoken

3:02 By someone who is simply fed up with the Eurocentric ideals of this season

3:07 And the reason I speak a composite version of your language

3:10 Is because mines was raped away along with my history

3:14 I speak broken English so the profusing gashes can remind us

3:18 That our current state is not a mystery

3:21 I’m so tired of the negative images that are driving my people mad

3:26 So unless you’ve seen it rob a bank stop calling my hair bad

3:30 I’m so sick of this nonsensical racial disparity

3:34 So don’t call it good unless your hair is known for donating to charity

3:38 As much as has been raped away from our people

3:43 How can you expect me to treat their imprint on your language

3:47 As anything less than equal

3:49 Let there be no confusion

3:51 Let there be no hesitation

3:53 This is not a promotion of ignorance

3:55 This is a linguistic celebration

3:58 That’s why I put “tri-lingual” on my last job application

4:04 I can help to diversify your consumer market is all I wanted them to know

4:08 And when they call me for the interview I’ll be more than happy to show that

4:11 I can say:

4:12 “What’s good”

4:13 “Whatagwan”

4:14 And of course …“Hello”

4:17 Because I’m “articulate”

4:20 Thank you..

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