When people ask me what I do, I tell them that right now I’m learning Acholi. This answer usually proves pretty popular, and is greeted with smiles, praise, and more conversation. Its also common for people to respond:
1. Just sit with the children, they will teach you!
DING, wrong. In my experience, its extremely difficult to learn from kids. When we first arrived, our earnest attempts to communicate with the 7 children who live opposite us were met with disinterest (unless a game or popcorn was involved, which we often resorted to.) They were seriously unimpressed- who are these useless people who can’t understand our basic questions? Now that we are over two months into learning and can interact a lot more, some kids assume we’re good to go. The result – they speak in normal high-speed-slurred-kid-slang, and I’m lost again. My advice? Play with kids, and practice language with adults.
2. You will learn very fast, our language is so easy! Ok, perhaps compared to Mandarin. Or Arabic. However, there are some tones to wrestle with, and words that can be distinguished only according to whether the sound is produced in the front or back of the mouth. This results in lots of words that mush together in my head. This is my language helper with some examples:
- Honey, hungry, bitter, orphan
- painting, singing, smearing, spinning, leaving, outside, respect, to show off, ‘in order to’
– Keep in mind for this one that when speaking fast people pronounce the ‘K’ just like an ‘R’!
- To toss (usually rice to remove chaff), to defile, to remove the shell, to plant (or to feed), to pour (into something