Updated: Apr 7, 2022
Dit la vérité.
Tell the truth.
While living in Dakar, Senegal I started picking up Wolof and now have functional (broken) French. This is my favorite phrase by far & I use it HEAVILY. The language barrier is REAL whenever traveling, but it’s the effort that counts. I know I’m mispronouncing words and butchering grammar, but I’m trying and people recognize that. Genuinely putting forth effort into learning someone’s language is a MAJOR KEY to gaining trust and being welcomed. I also use this to break the ice with my students. My students in Senegal were fluent in Wolof and French so seeing their teacher fumble over both languages was hilarious to them. My accent and pronunciation were clowned on a daily basis, but I didn't care. I enjoy learning languages and cracking jokes.
Learning another language is never an easy task especially when you NEED the language, but I enjoy it. I've been able to learn from so many people and interactions around the world. Wolof is truly another beast and I was not prepared. Out of all the countries and languages I've encountered, it was by far the hardest and I was only able to pick up a few words and phrases. In all honesty, when I realized how difficult Wolof was I decided to focus on French.
French is not an easy language to learn, but it was easier than Wolof and allowed me to communicate with everyone around me. I also knew that I would be able to use French in future travels more than Wolof so my focus shifted. Latin based or Romance languages are easier for me to learn because of my mother tongue and experience with Spanish and Italian. Having something to connect to in my mind helps me a lot when learning a new language and I couldn't find any connections for Wolof.
I prefer learning languages through experiences and from native speakers so I didn’t learn any Wolof or French before arriving in Dakar. It may sound crazy (because it kinda is), but it work for me and I plan to continue to use this strategy. You tend to pick up things fast when you NEED it. Running out of toilet paper may seem like an easy fix, but that may not be the case if you can't communicate what you need. Long story short: I learned how the french words for toilet paper within my first couple weeks in Senegal and I doubt I'll ever forget how to say "papier toilette". Everybody learns differently and this works for me (most of the time🙃).
My time in Senegal was cut short and I didn't feel ready to leave. I don't know when I'll return, but I do know it will happen one day. When I return my French will be much better and I will continue to struggle my way through Wolof and learning along the way.
How many languages do you speak? Do you try to speak the language of the country you’re visiting? Let me know in the comments!