This year I got to go back home to Rwanda and see my family.
Rwanda changed it’s second language to English instead of French when they joined the commonwealth so I thought, cool I’ll still be able to speak English as I gave up French in year nine and all I remember is greetings and numbers. A fact that became so much clearer to me when I was in Belgium. I was surrounded by so many French speakers and I got a bit of a culture shock.
The thing is in Rwanda even though the second language was changed, French is still really important. The main language is Kinyarwanda and when you make it obvious that you’ve been westernised and can barely speak it they ask you, “Can you speak French?” and when you shake your head all doe eyed they ask “What do you speak?” and when you answer English the look of disappointment (HA) I felt like a failure. Especially when they replied “JUST English?”
Yeah being monolingual sucks. I’ve been back to Rwanda before but my mom was with me so she translated but this time I went by myself, I had no translator. So this was my first time dealing with it.
It made me really disappointed in myself for giving up on French and learning Spanish and for letting my skills in Kinyarwanda slip. It was probably the Kinyarwanda that I regretted the most. I didn’t realise it before but it is a BEAUTIFUL language. In England it’s normally adults who speak it to me and they only greet me in a condescending manner and then proceed to talk about how I can’t speak Kinyarwanda to my mom, so I never really liked it when people spoke it to me. But in Rwanda people would see me and know I was one of them and start speaking to me with such warmth that it made me feel really good and like I belonged. And this was strangers y’all, they did not know me but they were so kind. And so when I couldn’t reply to them sufficiently, it hurt me you know… it hurt my grandparents too (but at least they then proceeded to teach me and fill in the gaps in my vocabulary).
It’s also really sexy when a guy starts speaking to me in Kinyarwanda, I can’t explain it, you’ll just have to experience it yourself.
But instead of making me sad and dejected it’s made me really determined. I tell you, I’ll be hitting up Amazon looking for dictionary’s and verb books (they exist I checked) and when I go back again, I’m going to be so fluent it’ll knock their socks off. It makes it easier that I knew the language in my childhood and can still understand it.
Have you ever tried to explain to someone that you can understand what they’re saying but just can’t reply? It’s a struggle I tell ya.
Anyway I don’t want to be monolingual anymore. Nope! No sir