There is a big difference between merely learning about a language and actually learning the language. Up until now, we have only been able to learn about Nsenga, through a book and a few articles on the internet. Now that we are in Zambia, though, we are able to start actually learning Nsenga – from real speakers in real life.
One of the students at the Lutheran Seminary in Lusaka is from the Nsenga tribe. He and his family are from a village near Petauke, the town where the Nsenga Bible Translation Project will be based. His name is Dennis Zulu, and he and his wife have graciously agreed to help Janine and I learn Nsenga while we are here in Lusaka.
One of the classes we took in Dallas was “Second Language and Culture Acquisition” (SLACA). This class taught us how to learn a language from a native speaker who wasn’t necessarily trained to teach his/her native language to foreigners. We were shown various techniques for eliciting language and games to play to help us foreigners remember the new words.
Now we get to put it all to the test. Yesterday was our first language session with the Zulu family. We learned some greetings appropriate for certain times of day. We also learned how to ask, “What is this thing?” – a language power tool we used to learn the words for man, woman, boy, girl, house, and various animals. Then we learned how to say thank you and goodbye. We got it all on tape, so we can listen to Mr. and Mrs. Zulu and try to imitate their tones and accent. And we get to do it twice a week, on Tuesday and Thursdays as long as we’re in Lusaka.
Several times during our session Mr. Zulu laughed when we spoke and said, “That’s just the way we say it!” We hope that when we get to Petauke, Mr. Zulu’s lessons will have us well on the way to speaking “just the way they speak it.”
The final step – after learning about the language and learning the language – is to learn in the language. This will be our main task the rest of our time in Zambia: using the Nsenga language to learn about the people, to know how best to bring God’s Word to them in their mother tongue.
It is vital for us to learn the language of the people we will be serving. Please pray specifically for our language learning!