I continually struggle to learn a few words of Lusoga each trip between teaching and ministering in English with translators. Lusoga is the regional language around Jinja, where I am based, though it is only one of maybe ten of more different languages spoken by the various tribal groups in Uganda. Luganda is a more widely spoken dialect, as is Swahili, which is spoken throughout much of Africa. Apparently Lusoga and Luganda are very close, so as to make it possible for one who speaks Luganda to understand one who speaks only Lusoga. Also, the written Lusoga is apparently very complex for reasons I don’t yet understand, while the written Luganda is simpler to read and understand. This creates the dynamic that Bibles are translated into Luganda, and the Lusoga speakers read Luganda and English translations instead of Bibles translated into the more difficult Lusoga. They almost sometimes prefer the old KJV English over the Lusoga Bible, and even I find that hard to read.

I am now spending three weeks of this trip in the Eastern portion of Uganda near the Kenyan border in a town called Tororo. They speak an entirely different language here – Japadola (a very unattractive-to-the-American-ear “Jap” for short) – so as I write this, we are wondering how the translating to English will go. Samuel remembers a time with Dr. Kenneth Rooks from ICE International when his teaching had to be first translated into Luganda, then re-translated into the local language – two translations for every statement! I am praying that God will provide at least one good English speaker in each conference so the translation can be smooth. So far, one day into the first conference, we had good English translators, so the process was easy. The added difficulty, of course, is that a three-sided translation would take double the normal time to teach with every statement being translated not once, but twice.

My introduction to the Lusoga conferences around Jinja and on Buvuma Island has been to speak a few Lusoga words to the crowd and to tell them that my Lusoga is small, but growing. I will say, “Kale, Sebo, and kale, Nyabo,” (hello, sirs and madams), “I know only a few Lusoga words, but I am learning. I know weybaleynyo, matoki, cassava, posho, irish, tilapia, as well as Mt. Dew, and Cok-eh Zeyro.” This always gets them laughing, which I find to be a very satisfying start to any meeting. [weybaleynyo – polite thank-you; matoki, cassava, posho, irish, tilapia – various foods that are popular; irish is what they call potatoes; freshwater tilapia is the main fish from the lake; Cok-eh Zeyro, of course, is Coke Zero.]

My difficulty with Lusoga is that it seems to be a double-accented language. That is, each word, even the short ones, seem to have two accents in them (a subtle kind of lilt to the voice) instead of the single- accented English that my brain is wired to speak and hear. Since the wiring for double-accents is not present in my brain, I find it very hard to even hear the two accents, i.e.,  the difference in pronunciation between what I am saying and what they are saying. Even more so, I find it very difficult to speak the double accent while my neural language center automatically rushes to complete each word with a single ringing accent. I guess I don’t lilt when I speak.

So Samuel and I go back and forth as he patiently tries to teach me in a dialogue much like this:

S: Wey’rahbah” (good-bye).

Me: Weyrahbah’.

S: No, it’s Wey’rahbah”.

Me: That’s what I said, Weyrahbah’.

S: No, no! It’s Wey’rahbah”.

Me: Ok, Weyrahbah’.

S: No, Wey’rahbah”.

Me: Ok, Weyyyyy rahhhhh bah’.

S: No, Wey’rahbah”.

Me: Weyrahbah’.

S: No, no… it’s Wey’rahbah”.

Me: But that’s what I said.

S: No, it’s…. (Well, you get the idea…)

So I am trying, but I am not making a lot of headway, poor linguist that I am. When I finally have it, I go away repeating what I think is correct to myself, then the next time I use it, of course, I am back to using the one-accent version again and being mercilessly corrected. Perhaps I am hopeless, but I will keep at it. Occasionally now, every so often, I get it right. But when I do, I can’t repeat it, and I’m never sure exactly what I did differently that made it correct because I can’t hear it.

It is said that the ear hears what it expects to hear. My ear expects to hear one accent in a word. I will say that the double-accenting makes Lusoga sound more musical than English. I like it very much. I just wish I could hear it correctly. Then speaking it would not be such a struggle. At least my tortured pronunciations provide a ready source of amusement for the Ugandans. And I have learned that they much appreciate that I am willing to try. When I am able to greet a Ugandan in Lusoga when they are expecting only English, I’m always rewarded with a bright and warm smile.

And now I am learning to say “Thank-you” in Japadola so I can be polite to the locals in Tororo – “Walawa’ah.” “No, wal’a wa”ah.” “OK, walawa’ah.” “No,….”