Friday, August 18, 2006

The 14th good thing about Lagos: Everyone speaks English (sort of)

We've had foreign assignments before -- we lived in Norway and in Dubai. Both places had populations with a high percentage of people that spoke English. While in Norway I studied Norwegian and, because German was my language of study in college and Norwegian is a very similar language, I was able to confuse the two very easily and speak a strange kind of English/German/Norwegian dialect of my very own. And I studied Arabic while we were in Dubai, but there was no expectation that we would actually learn to SPEAK it, at least anything beyond greetings and such. It was mostly a cultural class. Anyway, most the people you really needed to communicate with when shopping or eating out spoke Urdu or some other Near Eastern language. But even though the "natives" in these places were able to speak English, darn it all, they preferred their native language and conversed easier in it so it was often difficult to have good discussions about differences in our respective cultures. Our language differences were often a barrier. Here, thankfully, that barrier doesn't really exist. Though Nigerians do have different native dialects, at least here in Lagos, they are all very comfortable speaking in English and that's the language that most of them communicate with each other. In the car last week with a security man and the driver, I asked them about their languages and they said they came from different parts of the country and their first languages were different, so they spoke to each other in English -- and that's what most of the Nigerians do. Dairu listed off several of the common tribal languages and said also many people speak "pidgin English." I asked him if I would understand someone speaking pidgin, and he said I might catch a word here and there, but I probably wouldn't understand much of it. Actually, after being here almost 2 weeks, today was the first time I heard Nigerians speaking to each other in something other than English. I was taking a tour of the Ikoyi golf club to see if we might want to join it when we come for good(the company pays for our membership in one club of our choice because of the limited social activities available in the community), the guy showing me around spoke to one of the workers in another tongue and I asked him what language he was speaking and he said it was Yoruba. My guess is that Yoruba is the most common native language in this part of the country. But English is used for all signs and business and general communication because this country was colonized by the British. Although it is often difficult to understand the English of some Nigerians and at times I have to ask them to repeat what they said -- it is still lots easier to have the expectation of conversing and understanding each other. I'm learning a lot more about these people and their lives because I'm able to ask them about themselves and, usually, I'm able to understand what they tell me.

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