This recent trip to Senegal/Guinea/Guinea-Bissau/France was full of different languages. You see, I started in a city in Senegal where people mainly speak Wolof and French. I speak French, but not Wolof. It would be great to learn it sometime, but at the moment I only know a few greetings, etc. And I was only there for a week this time before I moved on to Guinea, so remembered some that had been hidden away in my brain, but didn’t learn anything new, I don’t think.
In the parts of Guinea we were in, I wished that they spoke better French, but they moreso spoke Susu and the N language, neither of which I speak. Susu is related to Jula, so there were some words and expressions that were easier to understand. I decided to work on Susu, though people still insisted that I learn at least a few phrases in the N language.
After 3 or 4 days we left Guinea for Guinea-Bissau. The main languages there are Creole and Portuguese, again, neither of which I speak. I was starting to feel not-so-very-smart-at-all, not speaking any of these languages! But at least they spoke Susu where we were first in Guinea-Bissau, so I figured I’d focus on that, since by now I had a few expressions, a few nouns, a few verbs, etc., down.
However, the next day we continued north, farther from the border with Guinea, and there they didn’t speak Susu anymore! We tried to speak to an authority we needed to speak with, but it didn’t go well as we waited for our translators (who had to deal with a flat tire). My colleague Leah and I tried all the languages we knew (English, French, Jula, Susu), and the authority tried the languages she knew (Portuguese, Creole). I think I got the most across when I tried the few words of Spanish I remembered (since Spanish is close to Portuguese), mixed with Jula/English/French to fill in the gaps. But actually what was best was when our translators returned and were able to speak to her well. 🙂 I realized I needed to at least learn a few greetings in Creole or Portuguese!
In the picture above, I was trying to ask the older gentlemen in the middle some questions for our PGA (People Group Assessment), but they only spoke the N language, Creole, and Portuguese. So I asked the questions in French, they were translated into Susu by the guy in the black shirt sitting next to me, then were translated into Creole by the guy in the winter jacket (don’t worry – it was hot that day) on the other side of me. The N men then understood and responded in Creole (though Creole was their second or third language), then the man in the winter jacket translated their responses back into Susu and the man in the black shirt translated them back into French so I could understand their responses. Crazy!
I was grateful that after that we turned south again and Susu (and every once in a while even French!) became more common again. It’s amazing how wonderful it feels to be able to communicate in a language you’ve been “learning” for a week (with help from knowing Jula already) after you’ve been surrounded by ones that you don’t know at all!
So there you have it. I was in West Africa for less than a month, and would have really benefited from learning 5 different languages during that time: Wolof, Susu, N language, Creole, and Portuguese. I know that I can learn languages quicker than some people, but that’s still a bit much!