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our little African

“Oh! He speaks just like an East African!” the border guard exclaimed appreciatively. “I know!” S retorted, making plain her frustration.


Even though Munchkin goes to an international school, it did not take him long to pick up on and assimilate East Africa’s uniquely torturous approach to the English language. D largely finds his mis-speech amusing, confident that he’ll grow out of it just as quickly as he adopted it. After all, it’s not that he is incapable of speaking correctly – quite the opposite in fact. He simply chooses to mispronounce certain words, adamantly insisting, for example, “No! It’s AmauLy, not AmauRy!” much to S’s mounting exasperation (Amaury is one of his classmates).

The substitution of Ls where Rs should be is the most glaring example of the African accent he has acquired. Blathfloom for “bathroom,” belella for “umbrella,” fleee for “three,” glass and zebla instead of “grass” and “zebra.” But there are other subtle figures of speech too. For example the use of “too much,” which Rwandans say not just excessively, but also in the strangest of contexts. Munchkin started doing it too: “It’s too much cold” or “I ate too much too much bananas.” And “even me,” as in “Even me, I want to eat strawberries.”

Not all of his creative phraseology can be attributed to Rwandans’ questionable influence on his speech. Some of it is simply an exercise in mastering the finer points of English grammar. For instance, he has picked up on the fact that the verb “to have” can be used to make a compound past tense, but he hasn’t quite figured out that he needs to use a past participle with it, so he frequently says things like, “Mama, I have came!” or even better, “Papa, we have приехал” (“we have arrived.”)

That said, he has also cottoned on to the fact that people speak different languages to him, and not only does he understand English (always), Russian (mostly), and French (sometimes), but he also expects people to speak different languages to him and helpfully translates, especially from Russian to English for S’s benefit. He doesn’t always get D’s words exactly right, but he’s close enough most of the time, so there’s hope for him yet.

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