Though the truth of Jesus Christ transcends language and culture, we believe that learning Nuer, the local language here in Nasir, is an important part of loving and ministering to people well. That is why for our first year on the field, we are devoting 30 hours a week to language learning, both through tutors and practicing in the community.
The South Sudanese are quick to encourage us, saying Nuer is an easy language and we will learn quickly, but we know that it will take a lot of practice and commitment to get there. Though the characters of the phonetic Nuer alphabet appear similar to English, they make very different sounds. For example, it does not matter if you substitute f for p or s for th, but there are 4 different n’s that must be spoken very precisely (n, nh, ny, and ng). We are also learning to think of Nuer as a song, humming each new phrase to hear the tones correctly.
In our eagerness to speak with people, we have made our fair share of blunders. For instance we realized after a couple of days that we had been thanking people for their barn instead of their help. A few weeks ago we finally figured out that the words for husband and name sound similar, as well as married and food, so when people asked us “What is your name?” Christina and I had been replying “I am not food.” We wondered why everyone thought it was so funny…
My favorite part though is walking past a lady on the way to the market, dignified and stone-faced, usually carrying around 40 pounds on her head with perfect balance. I love watching her face light up as I greet her in Nuer, and, in spite of her load, how she goes out of her way to speak with me. We chat until we reach the end of my Nuer, which right now does not take long, but it gives me the motivation to persevere. I look forward to the day when I can finally hear these ladies’ stories without a translator!