Thursday, 25 July 2013

Now You’re Talking My Language

Language lessons during in-country training week.
In-country induction week language lessons started off quite well as we were introduced to the basics. We began our morning sessions with a friendly greeting from the national volunteers; a welcoming smile accompanied by ‘Da-see-ba’ meaning good morning, to which we replied ‘naa’ to say that we were fine. We then learnt afternoon (An-ti-ri) and good evening (an-in-wu-la) to which naa was still applicable. Soon enough the words began to flow with ease. I was feeling like an honorary Dagumba within days.

Kalm and Shaibu in the IS office practising Dagbani 
Shaibu (one of our national volunteers) sensed my complacency and decided to introduce me to the subtitles of Dagbani. One morning following a rainy spell the previous night, I was greeted with that familiar smile but this time it was accompanied by ‘ti-ma-sim’ which I later discovered to mean ‘dreary morning’ or something to that effect.

Understandably thrown I investigated further and discovered its counterpart ‘ni-tu-wun-ta’ for when the morning is noticeably hot (which for most of us is all the time!) Luckily our trusted friend ‘naa’ is still the appropriate response to those variations so we need only be aware of the differences to avoid the dumbstruck face I first pulled.

Impressed by my interest Shaibu has begun teaching me some ‘off the curriculum’ phrases needed to accompany a cheeky smile during haggling bouts, which we've been finding can significantly reduce the price of a cab ride! In general the locals really appreciate efforts we make to adapt to their culture, whether it is through dress or language.

So often the curious or bemused stare of a local can be transformed instantaneously into a smile with a simple greeting in Dagbani. The response is likely to be one of mixed shock and delight but we end up exchanging pleasantries as best we can with our currently limited vocabulary. In my experience locals are keen to interact with us but are often hesitant due to the language barrier. The children however are not phased at all and I am often met by a barrage of hellos and hugs in the mornings by the local kids in our neighbourhood.
Getting past the language barrier. Big smiles!
With the settling in period over we have begun learning language that we will need during our working day. We will often be welcoming clients or partners to our office  with the inviting phrase ‘Yi-ma-ra-ba’ or thanking a village official for their cooperation with the words of gratitude ‘Ti-pai-ya’ during our fieldwork expeditions.

Whether it be in the professional realm or the social sphere I have learnt the key to advancing with the language is to try. Just go for it and use it with confidence, with no fear of mispronunciation and to be conscious of body language at all times!

1. Dagumba = The Tamale people of the Northern Region
2. Dagbani = The languae of the Dagumba people

Kalm Paul-Christian

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your blog post Kalm, its great to hear about the different languages and the way that even just giving it a go can open up communication with the people you meet,

    Looking forward to the next installment!!

    Best wishes,

    the York Team