09
Dec
08

US Peace Corps members speaking Bambara


During a meeting in Bamako earlier this month I was impressed by two young Americans who work for Junior Achievement as members of the US Peace Corps speaking Bambara, a local language spoken in some parts of Western Africa.

Although it is often said that those who speak English make little or no effort to learn a different language, since the whole world speaks English anyways, you may have run into native English speaking nationals that have learned to speak Spanish or French.

I have met a few Americans and Irish in the past who learned to speak Dutch.
Dutch is difficult to many foreigners because of some combination of vowels that are unique to the Dutch language and because of a strong pronounced G that comes from the back of the throat.

Meeting a new generation that comes to Africa learning local African languages is very encouraging and I am sure that it must have made a world of a difference for both the two as well as for the communities that they are working with in their mutual acceptance, understanding of and respect for each others cultures.

Six of the foreign languages that have been imported into Africa (Arabic, English, French, Portuguese, Spanish and Dutch) are widely spoken in the respective regions.

Arabic mainly in the North of the continent with French as a second language, an evolved version of Dutch in South Africa, Portuguese in five countries, Spanish in one. The remainder of the region either speak English or French.

There are hundreds of native languages in Africa, some of which are only spoken, not written. It is not unusual to find even hundreds of languages in just one country. Nigeria and Cameroon are good examples.

Speaking the language makes a difference in enjoying the place anywhere in the world. The more one invests the more one will get in return.

Foreign languages can be considered as a tool. In a world where distances become increasingly irrelevant, we use the language for business or for leisure during our holiday travels.

In some countries in Europe people take it for granted that one speaks a few languages and socially this has limited added value since most of the people speak at least a few foreign languages anyways.

When two similar cultures meet, it is easier to measure respect and it is less likely to get confused even if foreign languages are involved.

In Africa investing in a local language will yield respect and lasting friendship. Speaking one of the imported languages is a minimum. If one really wants to integrate into a local community learning the local language is probably the best way and it will help to discover elements of the culture that otherwise would remain unknown.

If one speaks a local language in Africa the local community will value this different. It will be seen as a token of respect and open mindedness. Cultures are very different in this case and it is very easy to be misunderstood or to misunderstand someone. Language therefore becomes more essential.

The young Masai is using a western cell phone, but that does not change the fundamental culture of the Masai.

One of the two Peace Corps members has almost completed his term in Mali, and will soon go back to the US to finish his studies and told me that he hopes to get back to Africa to put his studies into good use. Maybe it was due to speaking Bambara that a seed was planted for a tree to grow in the future.

If you have read my earlier post, I mentioned the fact that people either don’t like the region or they do.

© Desi Lopez Fafié


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2 Responses to “US Peace Corps members speaking Bambara”


  1. 1 Holly Marie Larsen
    December 11, 2008 at 11:14 am

    I ni ce! Thank you for the kind words. You are also an inspiration for us. Speaking another language (especially Bambara) has been a life-changing experience. Look forward to reading many more of your posts.

  2. May 13, 2017 at 6:51 am

    I really enjoy reading through on this web site, it has got fantastic blog posts.


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