Journal: Learning a New Language


Learning a New Language

Introduction: South Africa is so diverse! It is like a melting pot of different languages and cultures.  Have you head of the expression melting pot? It means a place where many languages and cultures mix together. America is sometimes considered to be a melting pot!

 Every day, I am surrounded by different types of people who speak different languages and have their own customs. Language here in South Africa is truly interesting considering that there are eleven national languages.!I invite you to come and explore the languages of South Africa with me.

Here in South Africa, there are eleven official languages. They are Afrikaans, English, isiNdebele, isiXhosa, isiZulu, Sesotho sa Leboa, Sesotho, Setswana, isiSwati, Tshivenda and Xitsonga. The three languages that I hear the most spoken here is English, Afrikaans and isiXhosa. There is not much difference between the English spoken here and the English spoken back home. The only differences that I have noticed are the South African accent and the proper grammar they use. In America, I feel that most people speak with a lot of slang and less structured grammar.

Traditional Xhosa Clothing

The language that I have decided to learn while here in South Africa is isiXhosa. This language is spoken by eighteen percent of the population[1].  In my class that takes place on Monday, Tuesdays and Wednesdays were learn about Xhosa greetings, traditional practices, Xhosa dishes and the culture of the people.

So far, I have learned that greetings in Xhosa are really important. You must speak when you enter a space filled with people and you must also make sure to ask everyone how they are doing. In America most people just greet one another by saying “hello”.  However, in the Xhosa culture,  you must ask how other people are doing. To say “hello” to some one you must say “molo”.  To ask how they are doing you say “unjani”. A typical response to this question may be “ndiphilile” which means “I am fine”. Can you try pronouncing those words?

My favorite part about learning this new language is learning about the culture that comes with it. I love learning about traditional Xhosa foods and also sampling them! My favorite traditional Xhosa food is samp. “Samp is dried corn kernels that have been stamped and chopped until broken”[2]. They usually cook samp with beans and vegetables and pair it with lamb or beef. I really enjoyed trying this traditional Xhosa food.

I have had a couple  funny moments when I tried to speak Xhosa to people in the community. One day, I was in the library studying for my Xhosa exam and there was a young lady sitting next to me. I noticed that as I was struggling to pronounce some of the Xhosa words that she kept glancing in my direction. Finally after several attempts at the word I decided to ask her for assistance. I leaned over to her and ask if she could help me pronounce the word. She simply stated to me in response that she was not South African and that she was from London! I felt really embarrassed and immediately said sorry.

It was then that I realized that not everyone who appears to be South African is from South Africa! Also, not every South African speaks Xhosa. She could have been from South Africa but speaks Afrikaans, or another one of the 11 official languages of this country. Although this was an embarrassing moment for me it was also a learning experience I remember during  future encounters with locals. Now when I meet new people and try to greet them I ask them first if they speak Xhosa before I proceed into conversation.

Xhosa children

I find it easy to learn a new language here because the native speakers  are so encouraging. They genuinely want others to learn their language. They feel honored when people try to understand and learn their language. By more and more people speaking Xhosa, they can keep their language alive.

In the United States , I have had a hard time learning new languages.  I can remember a time when I was learning to speak Spanish. I once  was laughed at when I tried to speak Spanish to the owners of a local shop. I can say that I have not had that experience here. Everyone who I speak Xhosa to here gets so overjoyed by my presence and immediately tries to teach me new words. I wish I felt it was the same way in the United States! This not only bridges the gaps between languages but also encourages cultural engagement.

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