Ever since I have moved to Burundi I have been constantly aware of my language deprivation. It's nothing new to point out how very limited my language skills are, because I am English.
At school I dabbled in German and French. It would be a gross misrepresentation to use the word 'learnt' about my language studies. Although in the past weeks I have discovered that my understanding of french does actually extend beyond the phrase , 'ferme la bouche'.
But like many English speakers I have so rarely been faced with the need to know another language, I have never really bothered to pay any attention to my dwindling language skills.
I have developed an increasing admiration of my students, many of whom speak at least two languages and often 3 or 4. Some speak French to Dad, Kirundi to Mum and English in school. I have children who speak Swedish, Flemish or Swahili at home, but then come into school and speak, read and write English!!
Home languages: Gujarati, Arabic, Swedish ( the one in the black jumper)Kirundi (far right)
and a couple of English speakers!
One of the most inspiring motivations I have come across has been the fact that Burundians do not expect the 'mzungu' (white people) to bother to learn their language. They are incredibly appreciative when people do. Well, that's what my teacher said, when I told him that mostly when I try to use any Kirundi all the Burundians fall about laughing!! He said they are not laughing at you, they are just so pleased to hear you trying. I believe him, he's a very nice man.
Just one problem with my teacher, his name is Deo. Why is that a problem? Well, our cook is also called Deo. Why is that a problem? Well, it's taken me three weeks to stop bursting into song everytime some one says the cook's name. I find my self singing... 'Deo, Deeeo, daylight come and me wan go home.............................etc, etc'. I don't sing etc, etc, I generally drift off into some random memory of the rest of song, something along the lines of six foot, seven foot and bananas.
I know, not desperately mature of me. Now I've got two Deo's in my life, it's really very difficult not to go as far as Googling the words of the song, to check what the rest of them really are!
So I'll close with one of my newly learnt Kirundi phrases, (spelt phonetically) umugoroba mweza. It means, good evening.
When I say 'learnt', I mean it's written in my book. Can't actually remember it once I close the book! Darn it!