I’ll trade you one of my verbs for two of your pronouns

Posted: August 19, 2007 in Blog

One of the goals I had coming here was to learn as much of the local language(s) as I could. I hadn’t managed that though during my first few weeks in Kampala. There was nothing really pushing me to learn Luganda (the most dominant tribal language in the south) because English is so prevalent in Kampala.

But the trip North was a good kick-in-the-pants. There was some English there, but especially in the IDP camps very few people knew more than a couple of words. (One man introduced himself to me as “Irish Potatoes” because it was the only two words of English he could think of and had no idea what they meant). So in the four days we were up there I tried to pick up a few basic greetings, etc. in the most prevalent Northern tribal language (there are more than 30 local languages) to help interviewing people. And it also reminded me that I need to make more of an effort here in Kampala even if it is so easy to get by only on English.

When we were up North we ran into a crew of French-Canadian documentary-makers. I talked with them for a while in French, which sparked the interest of the reporter I was up there with.

“You have to teach me French,” she said.

“Okay,” I said. “But only if you’ll teach me Luganda.”


So now we teach each other two phrases a day. First I teach them to her in French and then she teaches me the same phrases in Luganda. The end result is a Ugandan walking around the newsroom asking “Est-ce que tu veut de l’eau?” and “Comment ca va?” and a Canadian walking around the newsroom asking “Oli otya?” and trying to remember that the answer to that question is “mulungi”.


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