Dagbani is the language spoken by the Dagomba people. They are a predominately muslim group with a large presence here in Tamale. It was our goal to have regular language learning sessions in Dagbani with the hope of communicating with those in our community. I really wanted to be able to go to the market and do my shopping while speaking Dagbani. After we got settled into our home in late March 2007, we found a language helper and began sessions 3 times a week. At first, Paul and I had individual sessions and then we decided to work together since we were repeating the same things and seemed to be moving at the same pace. Although we did our best to practice in between sessions and focus our learning on scenarios that we would likely encounter on a regular basis, it didn’t feel as if we were truly making much progress. In August, after 5 months of sessions thrice weekly, we discontinued our lessons.
What was the problem? Well, there were many. Don’t get me wrong, we were not under the impression that we would become fluent in Dagbani in just 5 short months. The biggest issue is that our immediate neighbors speak a wide variety of different languages and none of them are Dagomba. Although they may speak Dagbani, it is not their first language. Even at GILLBT, English is used by the majority of people. We just did not have the opportunity to use or practice our skills on anyone but each other and our language helper.
While this is a disappointment to us, there are still possibilities for learning Dagbani little by little. For the time being, we know how to greet people for the appropriate times of the day. This is an important part of the culture and does help in our relationships with those around us.