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Students Take Trips Around African Continent Through Languages

Ibra points to Senegal where his dad and I are from.

African Community Learning Community Learning’s January theme is language. On Thursday, January 18, our students became the teachers on this subject.

“What should I present on with language?,” Tamara asked.

You can teach us words, you can talk about any experience related to language, you can connect your presentation to the article we read [‘First Steps Toward a Giant Leap: Part 1’], I responded. “It's your choice.”

Tamara went with the first option. When she arrived in December 2016 from Senegal, she didn't speak English.Today with the support of her family, school, and now African Community Learning Program (ACLP), she is conversational. She also speaks Pulaar, Wolof, and French.

“When I came here I forgot a little bit of French. At home, I speak Pulaar and Wolof.”

Tamara shared few words with the class along with their meanings, and I transliterated after her.

“‘Mbada [in Pulaar]’ means ‘hi.’ ‘Nangadef [in Wolof]’ is ‘how are you’”

While visiting her mom’s relatives in France two years ago, Adama had a tutor to help her learn French. From her parents, she learned Mandingo, a West African language.

“Can I present from my seat?”, she asked me.

“ Yes, you can,” I replied.

Adama began sharing Mandigo words, widely spoken in Mali, her parents native country.

“Isonbadi means ‘bad,’”

As he stood in front of the class rocking back and forth, giggling, and looking down, my son, Ibra, said couple words he understands in Pulaar, a language spoken in Senegal and other western African countries.

“Argua” he began.

“Can you tell us the meaning?,” I asked.

“Come here,” he responded.

“Mbalene ejam.That’s good night,” he said.

Aibatou came to America from Burkina Faso in 2014. She has been learning English and also speaks N’ko, Mòoré, and French. She was eager to teach words from each of these languages.

“‘Iniwula,’ It’s N’ko, and ‘it’s good evening’ in English. You say it when the sun is going down.”

“‘Waka’ [in Mòoré] is ‘come here’”

I made a connection as the word reminded me of a song that I head often.

“Is it like in that song ‘zami namina hehe, waka waka hehe?,” I asked.

“Yes, it is!”

“Now I know when I hear that song that ‘waka’ means come here.”

“‘Comment tu vas?’ is ‘how are you’ in French.

Raheemah sharing a laughter with me after ACLP session on Jan. 18

During the summers of 2012 and 2013, Raheemah lived with visitors of Fulani ethnicity and learned some of the language from them.

“I can’t speak Fulani. But when people speak, I understand many words.”

Raheemah remembers picking up some French as a child while visiting Parakou in Benin. Talking softly with her hands placed in her pockets, she taught us Yorùbá, a language spoken in her native country of Nigeria,.

“Esoun’ is ‘thank you.’ ‘Kotope’ is ‘you’re welcome.’

When it was Helima’s turn to present, she preferred whispering in my ear instead. With her mom from Niger and dad from Mali, she understands their languages well but doesn’t speak them much.

‘Potoferi’ is ‘open the door’ is in Zamara. That’s a language in Niger.”

She whispered more words to me. This time in Soninke.

“‘Amogo’ is ‘how are you?’ and ‘Daganonga’ is ‘go over there.’

Aminata Sy is the founder and president of African Community Learning Program, a journalist, and a rising junior at the University of Pennsylvania, where she studies international relations and English.

To support African Community Learning Program visit and

or email Aminata Sy at

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