Where's Allie?

Lend me your eyes, I can change what you see


On learning languages

“Confidence is crucial to language learning. Be firmly convinced you are a linguistic genius.” – Lomb Kato

I’ve always spoken English and French, and it took me about a week in Mexico before I was able to convincingly string a couple of sentences together in Spanish – now I like to think that I am fluent. I love the quote above, because that’s how I perceive myself. Whether or not it’s true, it certainly helps!

My goal has always been to speak 7 languages – French, English, Spanish, German, Russian, Japanese and Mandarin, in case you’re curious. I also want to learn Arabic, Italian, Portuguese and Swahili. So 11, I guess! Now that I’ve read this article, I’m more confident than ever that it’s an easy feat to accomplish. At my core, I’m just a big nerd, and an ideal evening is spent online, learning words in a new language, and figuring out how to put those words into sentences. I usually sound like I know what I’m doing too, because I seem to be pretty good at picking up accents. Whether or not I’m saying the right thing is a different story… but laughter goes a long way in that department.

I did NOT take this picture. But one day (soon) I will go to where I can.

This morning, I had a Tibetan language lesson – I am a volunteer for the Tibetan Resettlement Project, and I couldn’t be more excited. The language lessons are an added, unexpected bonus.

I can now confidently tell you that Hello, how are you? No, I do not want tea, bring me water/beer/food. The weather is cold, the house is hot. I speak a little bit of Tibetan. See you later, goodbye.

Here it is, in my own phonetic version, if you too want to pretend that you speak Tibetan.

Tashi deleg*, kusu dépo yin pé? Cha min du. Tujézik nga la chu/chang/kala nanro na. Namshi tangmo duk, kangpa tsapo duk. Nga peukè nyung nyung chigiyuk. Jellyoong, ka le shu**.

At first, we all thought that we sounded a little rude, because no one really says please or thank you. Our teacher explained that in the Tibetan language, the sentiment is implied. By nature, you are expected to be polite and thankful.

*Tibetan language fun fact #1 – Tashi deleg means ‘good luck’

**Tibetan language fun fact #2 – Ka le shu means ‘stay peacefully’

***Blog fun fact: I could be lying. This is what I learned in one hour today. I could be wrong about everything.

If you want to read more about my linguistic prowess, make sure to check out this blog post, to learn all about buying a half kilo of bananas at any market in Mali.

But I did take this picture. They thought I was ridiculous 🙂


Bamanankan doni doni

I am pleased to announce to all of you that I am now fluent in the language of my neighbourhood. The fact that I speak any words of bambara at all makes everyone laugh. All the Bambara words I am writing here are purely written phonetically – I can’t even begin to understand how they write the words. A word that sounds like demiseni is actually written den misenw.

To the child yelling BONJOUR!, I reply BONJOUR!

To the child yelling Toubabou! (white person!), I reply demiseni! (child! – somehow it seems less insulting within my cultural framework to yell at someone that they’re a child rather than pointing out the fact that they’re black)

Sometimes, the child yells Toubabou muso! (white woman!) No restraint here, I will heartily reply Farafi demiseni! (black child!)

To the child yelling “Toubabou muso! Donne moi l’argent!” (White woman! Give me money!) I am ready with my reply : Farafi demiseni! Donne moi l’argent!” (Black child! Give me money!)

Tonight, we had a bambara lesson with our guard. This language is going to be tricky to learn – there are no references to any of the languages I know, and people aren’t telling me what individual words mean, they are stringing sentences together, which makes it hard to create my own sentences. Hopefully we’ll be starting more formal lessons soon, as I’m determined to speak functional Bambara before I leave!

I can, however, have a civilized conversation with ladies in the market, as follows :

Alex : I ni sogoma! (Good morning!)
Market lady : In cé (I receive your greeting)
Alex : I ka kéné? (How are you?)
Market lady : Toro cité, è dou?(I am very well, and you?)
Alex : Toro cité! Ika douka kéné wa? (I am very well. How is your family?) (It’s a really big deal here to ask about everyone. If you’re stuck with someone for more than a few minutes, you can expect to go around once or twice – how are you, how is the family, how is your day, how is your wife, how is your house, etc etc)
Market lady : Toro cité! (long string of unintelligible bambara words) (Very well! Long string of unintelligible bambara words)
Alex : Ma foué famou. Bamanankan doni doni. Kou mamfé francela. (I don’t understand anything. Bambara small small. We must speak French)
Market lady : Francela doni doni. Kou mamfé Bamanankan. (French small small. We must speak Bambara)
Alex : Awo, doni doni. Sabali klanché namasa dia. Djolido? (Ok, small small. Give me half a kilo of bananas, please. How much?)
Market lady : Kemefila (One thousand)
Alex : Ayi! Aka guélen toro! (No! That is too expensive!)
Market lady : Ayi amanguélé! (No! That isn’t too expensive!)
Alex : Awo, aka guélen toro! (Yes! That it too expensive!)
Market lady : Awo, kemedo. (Ok, 500)
Alex : Awo. In cé. Métaga sou. (Ok, thank you. I am going home.)
Market lady : Néfara. Cambé! (Enjoy your meal. Goodbye!)
Alex : Cambé sini! (Goodbye! See you tomorrow!)

This is the full extent of my knowledge, and it requires going back and forth in my little notebook. I am also limited to buying things in half-kilos. I can only talk about bananas, dogs and chickens. And I can only announce that I am going home, to work or to the market. Hey man, it’s a start!