Friday, 9 October 2015

Learning the language

Fortunately for me, the official language in Zambia is actually English. Whilst I did well in languages at GCSE level (an A* in French and an A in Italian), I failed my French 'A' level! I haven't studied any languages since then, and have only really learned basic phrases to use abroad on holiday.

The waitress and waiters who taught us some Swahili in Zanzibar

There are over 70 different languages spoken across Zambia, although some of them are more like local dialects than official languages. The main languages spoken here are Bemba, Nyanja, Tonga and Lozi. Bemba is the language most widely spoken in and around Ndola where I live.

In some languages, including Bemba, Zambians distinguish between a 'deep' form of the language, associated with older and more traditional speakers in rural areas, and a more urban form that includes some words borrowed from English and other adaptations.

English is now the major language of Zambian business and education so staff in shops and restaurants speak English well enough for me to effectively communicate with them. However, I still think it's good to make an effort to learn the local language. And I am trying! I have learned some Bemba greetings and basic words. I’m not sure that I have a very good accent though, as there have been some occasions when someone has had to translate even my Bemba!

Lister who teaches me Bemba words on Arise visits, with one of our guardians

In the communities where we work around Kaniki, it's more important to show that we’re making an effort to fit in with the local culture. Most people who live in these areas speak little or no English. I’m currently trying to learn a couple of new words each week when I’m out on visits, to use with the children at school. I use a few key words in the classroom because it’s often easier to get the children's attention that way. I think it’s because they find me speaking in their language quite funny. They often laugh when Rosie or I attempt to pronounce things in Bemba. However, I’ve decided that it’s good to be able to laugh at yourself! Language and culture are bigger barriers than I anticipated but I am certainly enjoying learning lots about them.

Some of the children teaching me Bemba words whilst styling my hair!

Here are a few Bemba words for you…

Mula shani? - How are you?
Bwino (Bweeno) - I'm fine/good
Emukwai (M-quai) - With respect
Lesa mipale (Laisa miparlai) - God bless you

Isakuno (Isacoono) - Come
Na totela - Thank you
Naunfois? - Do you understand?
Tukamonana mailo - See you tomorrow

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