Monday, 4 October 2010

Language difficulties

I am getting used to the Nigerian accents and I’m even beginning to use this to tell the difference between some of the tribes. But I still feel as if we are both speaking different languages!

The Hausa tribe are easy to identify because they constantly muddle up the f and the p sound for example; the children’s farents; let me helf you; five foint three; how do you peel? The reason for this is because they don’t have the letter ‘p’ in their alphabet and the letter ‘f’ has a ‘pah’ sound. This has taken me a long time to stop focusing on it and get used to it.

Hausas also muddle up the ‘s’ sound with the ‘th’ sound. For example they may pronounce this as thith or somthing as thomthing. Although this is less frequent than the f and p confusion, it is still distracting.

The phrase ‘well done’ can be used at any time as a way of stating that everything is fine. You may hear it said when you sit down at the desk, after you have said hello to someone or after you have bought something at the market. It feels like I am being congratulated on writing my name or putting my seatbelt on!

There are over 200 Nigerian languages and the main form of communication between the different tribes is in English. As the standard of English varies Nigerians ofen shout at one another to make themselves understood, especially on the phone.

When speaking Hausa it is very important to pitch the word correctly. If you change the pitch of a syllable in a word it could mean something completely different. Because of this and the directness of the conversations it often feels like you are in trouble and being told off by. It also gives little scope for intonation for ease of listening.

I find it quite annoying that so many phrases in ESSPIN are written and spoken in acronyms. Some simple examples are that the Headteacher is called HT and the State Team Leader is called the STL. It is like speaking in code.

So it is no wonder that I am finding it difficult to follow any passage of speech by a Nigerian, not forgetting that they speak for long periods without stopping. And as I often can’t understand them, I am quite sure that they can’t understand me either. A proven example of this is after the volleyball coach had given his speech at the end of practise, I then went to him individually to clarify the times of the next practise. Even after a one to one conversation, where I double checked that I had understood everything he said, I turned up the next day at the time that it was just finishing! We clearly hadn’t understood each other!

Here are some interesting phrases that Nigerians use:
Let me ease my self – I need the toilet.
Go and pick Chioma/ Let me pick you – Go and pick Chioma up/ I will collect you.
On the computer / Off the light – Turn on the computer / Turn off the light
One-one / small-small / twenty-twenty – One / Small / Twenty
No, I’m satisfied – I don’t need a drink, thanks.
Greet Magaji – Say hi to Magaji
Uhhhhhh- HUH / exACTly / It’s true – Yes (in agreement) (You must emphasise very strongly where I have put capitals)


  1. How's it going Lucy? I'm almost 2 months into my placement and things are beginning to make sense. After 1 month's ICT and then waiting for the new regional director I finally feel like I know what I'm supposed to be doing! Getting used to bucket showers and a pit latrine was a breeze...

  2. Hi Lucy

    You seem to have settled into life over there really well and are learning and doing lots of new things!

    I love reading about what you are up to.

    Take care and keep up the blog!

    Diane xx

  3. Hi Lucy How goes it I am struggling with the language myself but not sure yet how much I will need it in Phnom Penh.
    You seem to be adapting really well and are an inspiration
    We have a home stay with a local village family on Sunday+ night so may also be sampling similar toilet arrangements to Marcus but I dare say I will survive
    Lots of love

  4. Dear Lucy,
    I am half way through the book you leant me and it's great that I can make connections with the places and tribes you mention. Thanks for lending it to me. Soon you will be blogging in Hausa lol!
    What's your accommodation like?
    Love Jacquiexx