The joys of learning a new language


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Africa » Gambia » District of Banjul » Banjul
September 17th 2011
Published: September 17th 2011EDIT THIS ENTRY

Our gang of volunteersOur gang of volunteersOur gang of volunteers

Along the top, left to right: me Daniel, Chris. Liam, Zakia, Suki, Mary, Gareth Bottom row: Rob, Soumita, Catherine, Laamin.
This week has been all about the language lessons. I’m learning Mandinka and it’s really hard! The structure of the language seems simple enough but all the words sound the same. They only have one way of pronouncing each letter which means there’s not many sounds to choose from. I have a feeling this is going to lead to some embarrassing mistakes. Here’s a possible one. We were flicking through our sheets of vocabulary and noticed that among the names of parts of the body they’d decided to give us the Mandinka word for vagina. This is ‘bee’, pronounced ‘beh’. The trouble is the word for ‘am’ is ‘be’, also pronounced ‘beh’ but with an ever so slightly shorter sound. Now what are the chances that at some point I’m going to unknowingly slightly over state my beh sound and tell someone ‘see you later! I vagina going to the shops. Can I get you anything?’. Probably to my boss or the leader of my compound. I think this language needs a rethink!

On Wednesday we visited Serrakunda market with our teacher to practice our shopping vocabulary. We’re in small groups for lessons and our teacher is brilliant. She’s called Nisatu. She’s very laid back with everything it seems but grammar. Our trip to the market was stressful to say the least. Serrankunda market is a challenge in itself. Greenwich market it is not. It's smelly and dirty and its lined with people selling everything from fish out in the open air covered in flies to piles of random clothes which I’m sure must come from those clothes banks in every Sainsbury’s car park. Nisatu wouldn’t let us use any English and she wouldn’t let us just point to things to ask how much. Oh no! At one point I wanted to buy some candles. I had to ask for 1 big packet of candles. I kept getting my words all in the wrong order and my emphersisers all wrong (don’t ask me what emphasisers really are, they’re just pointless little words that come at the end of sentences that are only there to catch you out ). She kept saying to me ‘No Sarah! You do not ask for a packet of candles big! How do you say it? How do you say it! Where does you emphasisers go!’ In the end, after my fifth attempt she was reduced to shouting ‘Sarah, tomorrow in class I am going to beat you!. I am going to get Gareth and Chris to hold you down and I will beat you! Now what kind of candles do you want!!!’ Argh!!! I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

I was spared mercy the next day though. She decided that I actually did well at my candle shopping. I did manage to come away with 1 packet of big candles so not a complete loss. It turns out I’m not so bad at Mandika . Yesterday we had our test. I got 95%! Even after her threat of ‘Sarah, if you laugh I will fail you!’to which of course I laughed. Check me out, 95%!!! I take no credit for it though. In the test she kept saying ‘do you really want to say it in that order, try again’. It was 95% but only after 5 attempts at each question. So she’s strict but it’s all for my own good. Thank you Nisatu for teaching me the joys of Mandika!

Next week it’s motorbike lessons! The drivers of The Gambia best be warned!


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17th September 2011

Hi Sarah
How do you say absolutly fabulous blog in Maninkan? Think it might be wise to wear your crash helmet for the language lessons, your teacher sounds nearly as strict as Joe! xx
17th September 2011

Wow 95% excellent!!! I loved reading about your market visit. So funny.

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