Lessons in Luganda

The first morning of cultural orientation included a lesson in the local language, Luganda, with my fellow volunteer from Finland. The official language of Uganda is English, and that is the language used in schools, but there are 33 local languages in total. In and around Kampala, Luganda is the most common.

Our teacher was Shakirah, an 18 year old who has been working at UVP as a cleaner since her dad died in a road accident a few months ago. As Shakirah is the oldest child, and her mum doesn’t have a job, she had to give up her hairdressing diploma to provide for her family and support her younger sisters through school. Because she doesn’t have the money to complete her diploma, she isn’t eligible to look for work in a hair salon, which would be her dream job and pay much better than cleaning for a couple of hours a day. A tragic, heart-wrenching story that is unfortunately very common here, where opportunities can be given and taken away at the drop of a hat.

Anyway, back to the Luganda lesson… I had been given a few pages of introductory words and phrases at my ICYE-UK training camp in the summer, which was very helpful because it’s not a language that’s written down very often and the spelling can be difficult. For example, double letters are used to give emphasis to one part of the word, such as biiri (two). But the good thing is it’s sounded as it’s spelt (unlike a lot of English words!) so you pronounce every consonant and vowel in the word.

The only tricky parts are when to know whether the letters ‘k’ and ‘g’ are hard or soft and the letter ‘r’ is almost always pronounced as an ‘l’. But other than that, it’s pretty straightforward!

As an example, here are some of the phrases used to greet people (an important part of the culture here!)…

Good morning/Good afternoon: Wasuze otya no? / Osibye otya no?
Hello: Olyotya?
(Always said as a question!)

Good/Well/Fine: Bulungi
Bad: Bubi

Or to a shop owner or boda boda driver:
Gyebale ko: Thank you for your work

In reply…
Kale: Same to you

And finally, people are very polite so always add Sir (Sebo) or Madam (Nyabo) to the end of every greeting!


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