Saturday, May 4, 2013

Children make the best language teachers!

   The children here have been my best Sesotho language teachers.

   One weekend, my 3-year-old host brother, Katleho, came into my house to play.
   He started touching things. Picked things up. Threw things around.
   "Abuti o hampe"! (Boy is bad!) I said to him.
   "U letetsi! U leshanu!" he sharply retorted.
   Curious and surprised at his response, I asked him to repeat himself. He wouldn't. But I could tell by his tone that he had verbally fought me as hard as he could with his tart toddler tongue.
   Later on, I found out that the little boy called a liar. A liar!!! LOL!
   Although I received excellent Sesotho language training from the Peace Corps, the bana (children) have been my best teachers of Lesotho's mother tongue.
   Sesotho is one of two official languages spoken here. The other is English.
   Sesotho was created by French missionaries many years ago. Different variations of the language are spoken in South Africa, Botswana and Swaziland. It has aspects like the click sounds that dominate the famous South African clicking language of Xhosa.
   And Nelson Mandela speaks Sesotho.
   It's an interesting language but I've had moments where I've struggled to grasp it.
   This is where the children have come in handy for me.
   At school, I always ask my students for Sesotho translations. Helps me get the lesson-and my message-across.
   Last week, some students were play fighting during lunch time. I told them to stop fighting. No one listened.
   I asked a few students for the Sesotho translation of "stop fighting" (Se ka loana ntoa!) and the fighting ceased.
   At home, my host siblings act as my translators and transcribers. My 14-year-old host sister, Rethabile, practices Sesotho with me when she's home from boarding school.
   We patiently read my old Peace Corps notes. She corrects my rusty pronunciations. Introduces me to new Sesotho words.
   "Hantle! (Good!)" she tells me after our lessons.
   "U bua Sesotho hantle haholo! (You speak Sesotho very well!)"
   When it comes to Basotho bana teaching me their mother tongue, Rethabile is the honey to her brother's vinegar.  

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