Yo Quielo Taco Bell!

Luganda is the third language that I have studied in any formal sort of way. As a middle and high school student, I studied French and loved its graceful sounds. After spending some time in Guatemala, I switched to studying Spanish and managed to love it even more than I'd loved French. Not only did I enjoy the language itself, but I actually had friends with whom I could now communicate back in Guatemala. Spanish expanded my world in a tangible way, and it was so gratifying.

As my geographic interests shifted (and I ran out of spare college credits to invest in language learning), I stopped studying Spanish. My life moved along, and my interest in east Africa grew, and suddenly Spanish seemed very disconnected from my life's direction.

When I started learning Luganda, I was worried that my track record of not mastering French or Spanish would somehow affect my Luganda learning negatively. Especially when I (foolishly!) compared myself to my classmates, the majority of whom had mastered at least one other language prior to their current study. Surely, I thought, those who have mastered before will be able to pick up another language more easily than someone who never quite got there. Can I really do this?

Determined to not let that fear get me down, I got to work. As my Luganda study progressed, my concern changed and I instead started worrying about the phenomenon of language mixing. This was something I'd experienced before, wanting to speak Spanish but French getting mixed in, or the opposite. I stared down an impending trip to Guatemala over spring break with some trepidation, envisioning myself both unable to communicate in Spanish and losing Luganda proficiency as my brain tried to regain access to Spanish.

This weekend, though, I started to wonder if a little language mixing wasn't so bad after all.

In fact, there were two instances over the weekend where I did a little Luganda and Spanish mixing, and in both cases, I felt that both actually represented a sort of success.

In the first instance, my friends and I were passing a Taco Bell and joking about it a bit, when I piped up, "Yo quielo Taco Bell!" quoting everyone's favorite Chihuahua.  There was a little pause, and then my friends started laughing. I realized that I had let a little Luganda accent slip into my Spanish, pronouncing the r as something between an l and an r.

Later that evening, a little conversation started up in Spanish between some of these friends. I joined in, pleasantly surprised with my ability to say what I needed to say in Spanish. But then I forgot the word caminar (to walk). All that I could come up with was okutambula. I stopped for a moment, slightly in shock that the Luganda came automatically. The friends filled the gap for me, the conversation continued, and we moved on.

As I reflected on my language gaffes, much to my own surprise, I actually felt pleased with these little mistakes. To me, they represent an evolution of my relationship with Luganda. In both cases, Luganda was the default language, and in both cases, the Luganda I produced came effortlessly, naturally.

Of course, being able to speak Luganda, Spanish, and French coherently will require me to keep the mixing to a minimum. But for now, I'm taking these little mix-ups as a sign of progress with Luganda.

Apart from a little Spanish being thrown into my language study, this week was a nearly typical one for me. Again, I stuck to my schedule and managed to study Luganda every day except for Saturday. With the elections in their final week, I spent a lot of time trying to read newspaper articles about the candidates and all of the campaign news. However, because of the elections and the subsequent instability in Kampala, my language mentor was not able to get to an internet cafe for our weekly chat. Weeks like this make me appreciate just how much our conversations advance my proficiency. Though I maintained my study at a fine level, not having the practice speaking and listening made this week feel less fulfilling than usual. I'm looking forward to Friday's session even more than usual this week!


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