Saturday, November 10, 2007

Dave's Thoughts on Language Learning

Language learning is pot pourri of experiences. Our classes seem to plod slowly along. We’ve been fortunate to find a gentleman who has worked with a number of missionaries and with the peace corps teaching zarma/djerma and who has developed a curriculum of sorts. I find the class is not my style of language learning but it’s helpful to have someone who has an idea of where to start and how to work through basic vocabulary and grammar.

Put our language learning into practice is another experience. Greetings, which are probably the most important thing, bring a variety of reactions. Some give cold stares or ignore us while most laugh at the annassara (white person) trying to speak their language. A couple of weeks ago I tried out the Tamajek greeting our guard had taught me on some other guards one afternoon on the way to class. They quickly responded with a few more greetings and some laughter and then asked me to join them for tea. Unfortunately my class was about to begin.

We decided to try out our language skills in a market one day, which is a real challenge because zarma numbers change when it comes to money. Actually it’s much more realistic—the smallest coinage in the local currency is a five franc coin, so instead of beating around the bush they call it “one” everything else thereafter must be divided by five (which is really a tangle when you’re talking about 2325 francs). The woman we were attempting to negotiate with didn’t speak French as far as we could tell though there were others around to translate when necessary. As we walked on up the aisle we could hear behind us, “Annassara… hahahaha… Annassara …hahaha…” There is always lots of laughter wherever we try to speak, but always in good way.

I was waiting for Jennifer to open the gate one morning, when a three year old on the street started yammering away whether to me or herself I wasn’t quite sure. So I decided to say hello. She didn’t respond to me as far as I could tell but the man (her father?) walking behind her laughed and very politely said “Comment allez-vous?” (French). After I parked the car I wandered up the street to where he was chatting with the local marabout and another man in zarma—they laughed at me (again), especially when I inadvertently told them I’d bought locusts at the market that morning. (not true). They said I was becoming a true Nigerien and that locusts taste great when they’re fried with a little bit of piment (hot pepper).

This evening Jennifer tried to share some fresh spinach with a neighbour lady—somebody had given us more than we knew what to do with. She came back frustrated, saying, “I couldn’t string together a single sentence in zarma and Hajara doesn’t speak French.” So I encouraged her with the words of a preacher who once said, “I know I’ve got the anointing when my palms get sweaty, my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth and I can’t think of a single Bible verse. I know it’s the anointing because at that point only Jesus can work it out.”

Please pray that would be able to put the pieces together as we study zarma and work to get to know our neighbours and community.

1 comment:

Sonya and David said...

You are in our thoughts and prayers. Is.40:31