The other day we spent the night in a village in our people group. While there, we wanted to take the opportunity to start to learn their language and to work on using the few words we knew. You see, from previous trips into our People Group we had learned about 20 words plus some greetings. And while we were there, it was fun to see how much we were able to communicate and understand with only these 20 words! Here are two fun examples:
The word for water is something like numo. At about 5:30 or so, the chief said a whole long sentence to me in his language, and the only word I caught was numo. Water. Now I had to think – what could he possibly be saying to me about water? Do we want to drink some water? No, I don’t think it’s that. Do we want to go to the lake? I doubt it. It’s about to rain. No, doesn’t look like it. Go with the ladies to the well to go get water. No, it doesn’t look like the ladies are going to the well. Then I got it. It will get dark soon, so it’s about the time that they take showers. Since we’re spending the night, they are expecting us to take showers, too. When it’s time to take a shower, the women will put a bucket of water where you are to take a shower and then you can go use it to take a shower. I bet that’s it. So I responded (in Jula), “The women put the buckets of water out so we can go take a shower?” Wow, was he impressed with my level of understanding! I got it right! It was just a lucky guess based on the one word, the context, and the little bit of culture I knew, but it was fun to be able to get it right.
Later, as we were talking to the women, they asked what our plans were and if we were going to go to the fields with them the next day. So I decided to respond with a few other of my 20 words:
We (or “us” or “our” or something like that)
Lay down! (the command form of the verb, meaning the form that you use to tell someone to lay down. So I was actually telling us to lay down, but it’s all I could say, so it got the point across.)
Stand up! (again, the command form. I don’t know how to say “wake up” or “get up,” but at least I figure that if we stand up they’ll figure out that it means we also woke up)
Go _____! (again, the command form. Then I gave the name of the village we were planning on going to visit the next day)
Greet! (Again, the command form. I don’t know if this means “Say hi to me” or just “say hi” or whatever, but I was using it to mean that we’d go and say hi to them there.)
Go ____! (Again, the command form. Then I told them the name of the city we live in.)
Lay down! (again, the command form, telling us to lay down.)
Can you understand what I was trying to say? They could! I said that we were going to spend the night with them, then the next day go to the other village and then head on home without spending the night in the next village. We’d sleep once we got home.
When you’re learning a language, you can’t expect to be able to speak perfectly from day 1. But it’s fun when you can put together what you know to make yourself understood! And as time goes on, I’ll be able to understand more and more of what is being said around me and be able to speak better and better as well. Hey, while we were there that overnight we learned about 20 new words, doubling our vocabulary. At this rate we’ll be fluent in no time! 🙂