Let me be upfront here: I have never been good with languages outside of English. I tried to learn Spanish in high school…but I’m pretty sure the only thing I got out of that was the ability to start basic conversations, ask for the bathroom, and talk about dogs singing in towers. (Thank you, ridiculous language-learning curriculum.) But now, I figure a two and a half year commitment to live immersed in a language foreign to me is the perfect opportunity to try again.
Uganda is an overwhelmingly multilingual country. Different tribes in different regions speak different languages, or different versions of a similar language. It’s not uncommon for a person to speak three, or even four languages, based on the needs of the area in which you were raised. Here at Kasana amongst the Baganda people, Luganda is the primary language of choice. For me, the incentive to become fluent in the language is based partly on my job: I teach art in Primary school, and my younger classes learn exclusively in Luganda.
So with this in mind, I started Luganda lessons with my dear friend Aunt Agnes last month. We sit together, she talks in Luganda, I try to speak Luganda back to her, we both laugh, I scribble notes. It’s an enjoyable system. Sometimes I have specific questions; sometimes we learn whatever happens to come up.
On Saturday morning, we spent an hour learning basic items found in the market. And in the afternoon, we took a boda (motorbike) into the market together for a “practical” test. We wandered around the market, purchasing enyanya (tomatoes) and nanasi (pineapple) and ebitungulu (onions) and emboga (cabbage), and I listened to Agnes barter for prices, happy that I could pick out the numbers as they were spoken.
So while at this point my Luganda is extremely limited and sometimes results in humorous mistakes, I am loving the experience of learning a language by immersion. End goal: to teach without a translator. Possibly unattainable, but definitely worth working towards.