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Alliance Française de Bulawayo is our new language school; we aren’t learning French though. Ndebele is the language that we hope to get our tongues around and Mr Zulu is our teacher. We are having lessons 4 days a week in an attempt to get to gri…

Alliance Française de Bulawayo is our new language school; we aren’t learning French though. Ndebele is the language that we hope to get our tongues around and Mr Zulu is our teacher. We are having lessons 4 days a week in an attempt to get to grips with the main language of Matabeleland. 

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Alliance Française de Bulawayo

We knew that Ndebele was not going to be the easiest of languages as it has clicks. There are 3 main clicks ‘c’, ‘q’ and ‘x’. What we weren’t aware of, is that each click has several different ways of producing it, all of which make totally new sounds. In fact there are 19 sound combinations which we don’t have an equivalent for in English such as ngq, qh, nc, hl, xh, and dl.

It also has the joy of high and low tones, using a different tone again change the word, but thankfully these aren’t very common. Alongside this there are also 9classes of word in Ndebele each of which as a singular or plural version! So where in English we would have ‘a’ or ‘the’, you use one of the 18prefixes dependant on the class and if it is plural or not!

Not getting something just right might mean thinking you have used the word for good or beautiful but you’ve actually used the word for grave, not good when trying to pay a compliment!

Despite lots of shaking his head and chuckling Mr Zulu is very encouraging at our poor attempts to get our tongues around these new sounds. Every word seems like a new tongue twister but he assures us that we will get there in the end. 

Mr Zulu

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We thought you might like to hear a clip of one of our lessons but I can’t get my Dictaphone to upload properly so here is a link to Speak Ndebele which is a great online resource for trying to get the sounds right. Have a listen and try for yourself…

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XHmyjAIqBfA?wmode=transparent]

I will try and put a clip up soon, as it really is pretty amusing. There is a lot of laughter at the moment and I hope we can keep smiles on our faces as it can feel like a laugh or cry situation sometimes. Not being able to communicate can be frustrating but the reward it great, even attempting to speak Ndebele produces big smiles and laughs from the local people. They seem to really appreciate our pretty lame efforts. It has also helped us to understand the culture more as language and culture are linked so closely. For example when speaking to someone in the rural areas if Joe is referring to me he should call me Mama ‘Mother’ or Mama Ovenden, if he calls me Lois it shows that he has no respect for me!

At the moment it feels like very slow progress but I am hoping it will fall into place eventually, with the minimum amount of offence given!