There comes a point in learning a language when you just have to go for it. Whether or not it sounds the best or is full of mistakes, there has to be a starting point. You have to speak to the stranger, answer a telephone call, or make an introduction in a new language you are learning. I (Ladd) try to push a little more every day to speak more and more Kirundi. Sometimes, this is extremely enjoyable and helpful, other times I get some very strange looks, or laughs, and I know that I have said something wrong!
Lately, I have been making my speaking introductions in Kirundi. Before a teaching, there is always a period where you need to explain who you are, where you are from, what you do, etc. With some practice, I enjoy adding on some new parts to this introduction each time I speak. It is about this point when Carley gets nervous for me! It makes her nervous that I may say something extremely strange. Making a language mistake, when speaking to ten or a few thousand, can be a bit embarrassing, especially if it pertains to more personal matters. “Do you know that big fart over there, can you see it?” I was trying to say mountain, only a few letters different. “Hello everyone, my name is Ladd. This is my wife, your name is Carley”-at this point the crowd was laughing hysterically at my mistake. Of course, I should have said her name is Carley, rather than telling my audience their name is Carley, but I won’t forget to use the right word for it in the future! These types of mistakes have been so easy for me to make. Kirundi is a tonal language. This means we can have two words that are spelled the same, pronounced differently, and have two meanings.
Language is such a strong connection for two people. It can be something we take for granted all the time living in places where the people around us all speak our mother language. I can see the connection in the eyes of so many people I meet here when I choose to greet them in Kirundi. Usually after my brief hello, they will be very excited to speak to me. The words will start coming out of their mouths at speeds I’m not sure another Burundian could understand!
If you are surrounded with people that speak your own language today, appreciate the richness of your conversation. Enjoy speaking to each other in a language you both fully understand. Enjoy meeting a stranger or ordering a coffee in a language you have grown up with. It is a gift and a privilege to be thankful for.