During my first days in Kigali, the biggest problem seemed to be my inability to communicate in Kinyarwanda. I often had to move with a friend who knew English and Kinyarwanda to help me bargain and find my way around.
For a long time, I hardly laughed because I could not decipher any of the Kinyarwanda jokes I heard. For most of the time, my mouth would be shut till I would find an English speaker.
One day I confided in a friend about my problem. He told me not to worry for he had a solution to the problem.
He told me that all I needed was a good Kinyarwanda dictionary. I told him it wouldn’t be enough to teach me the language perfectly.
This is when he told me that he was not talking about an ordinary dictionary. According to him, I had to find myself a beautiful Rwanda girl who knew nothing but Kinyarwanda.
According to his theory, the love between us would compel me to learn as much from her and others so-as-to impress her.
Now as a teacher, I certainly know of better ways of learning a second language than starting up a selfish relationship with a stranger. I cannot say that I totally ignored my friend’s advice but that there is indeed a grain of salt in it.
To learn a language well, there is need for one to have windows of opportunity to practice what is learnt. It cannot be overemphasised that a language is a tool of communication and thus one learning it can only succeed only when they make an effort to practice.
To do this, one needs a person to regularly talk to, as if testing the new learnt skills.
For example, try to befriend a person who you are very sure can speak and understand good English. Occasionally, as you learn the language, you can try to practice with him or her. For the best results it should be a person you meet regularly and chat.
It does not have to be a girlfriend. The partnership can even be between a student and a teacher or a father and son. All you need is someone you can interact with often.
This person should be able to encourage you to keep trying while at the same time correcting you where you go wrong.
If you are partnering with a learner, it is good for you not to always in indulge in the same talk. Try to ask the learner some questions so that he/she can talk about different things and thus acquire more vocabulary.
Another trick can be that of listening to other English speakers interacting in order to acquaint yourself with some useful language expressions and sentence patterns. This, you can do very easily by say listening to English news broadcast and not just the Kinyarwanda or French ones.
Parents can encourage their children to listen to English language programmes on radio and then try to explain in English what they have heard over the radio.
Practice makes perfect and so you need to encourage your child to practice as often as possible.
I have noticed that there are quite a number of good easy-to-read books in the Nakumatt supermarket at the union trade centre (kwa Rujugiro) that parents can buy for their children to practice reading in English.
Even adult learners can go ahead and by these small books and practice. And if you know a person you can exchange the book with after completing it then do so.
I met a person recently who told me that I should teach her English. Since the person has been through the school system and attended more English language lessons, I told her that all I have to do is speak English to her only.
In that way I can be the proverbial English dictionary and help her learn the language.