Learning Luganda

Learning Luganda

It is so easy to get by with English here in Uganda. Most people speak at least a little English, and making yourself understood with a series of gestures, Uglish, or over-pronunciations usually isn’t that hard. However, for longer-term expats (or those simply interested in really understanding Ugandan culture), there are a number of reasons to learn Luganda.

Firstly, over 16 million people in Uganda speak it, with a particular concentration in the Buganda Kingdom and Southern region. That’s a whole lot of people you could be communicating with. Even if it’s mostly used haggling over a piece of artwork at a roadside stand, there is pride in knowing how to get by in the local language. Secondly, if you are working here and often find yourself in the village, speaking the local language can be crucial for both development programs and business transactions (not to mention increase your opportunities for employment). Lastly, if you are staying here long term or raising a family here, it’s not just a show of respect for your adoptive country, but it becomes imperative to assimilate yourself into the culture. It is likely your children will gain a working knowledge of Luganda. Their lucky child brains are sponges for that sort of information. Take it from my own dad who never learned my mom’s native tongue: when your child knows a language you don’t, it only causes trouble. You can mouth off, make secret plans, and get away with a lot more when a parent can’t listen in. Now that I’m parent-age myself, I realize how frustrating it must have been!

There are a number of options in Kampala where you can improve your working knowledge of Luganda. One choice is to use formal education. Makerere University’s School of Language, Literature and Communication offers Luganda programs and courses that range from beginner to expert. Such programs can be long term, expanding over a number of semesters. Study points start at basic Luganda and develop slowly into cultural and historical studies with highlights in phonology and creative writing in Luganda. If you have a number of years to spend here and the time to invest, this is an amazing opportunity to pursue.

For those looking for less intensive methods and simply want to learn conversational Luganda, there are a number of course styles available. Most courses run for a month or two and range from immersive to casual. The Goethe-Zentrum Center in Kampala offers Luganda classes for beginners twice a week. Many expats we spoke with suggested the center as its courses were clear, organized, and easy to understand. The courses are 170,000 UGX for the term (a link for all schools will be provided below).

Another option is the Alliance Française Kampala, which offer references for private tutors, and can organize classes for corporate groups. The AFK must be contacted and given the specifics of the request before they can organize and give an idea of the cost.

The City Language Centre has also gotten some high reviews from expats around Kampala. Not only do they teach Luganda, but they also teach a number of African languages such as Luo, Runyoro and Kiswahilli. For workers headed to more remote areas around East Africa, this could prove an excellent resource. They promote an initial intensive program of four hours a day for 2-3 weeks, with course times easing up about a month in. This helps simulate immersion which, okay, we are immersed in Kampala, but since Luganda is rarely spoken to expats and English is spoken by most residents, it can be hard to get the constant linguistic barrage you might have in, say, Paris. The CLC is 6km south of Kampala, so it’s not the most central location, however it comes highly recommended.

Recently, Pop Up Cafe in Ntinda has started offering group Luganda lessons on Saturday and Sunday with hopes to expand classes into weekdays. The groups are small (5 people max) to ensure a good learning environment. This is a great option for people who are looking to learn Luganda in a social, relaxed setting. The cost is 250,000 UGX for the lessons and also includes coffee and snacks of your choice while you’re there.

Of course, private tutoring is always an option. Many expats form small groups together and take turns hosting these lessons in their homes. For those with demanding schedules, children, or the simply lazy (read: yours truly) it’s a fantastic way to create your own level of immersion and with one-on-one help. For those who are shy in classroom settings, it can be a relief to get private help when a particular phrase or grammatical rule is difficult to grasp. Of course, for those that want to go it alone, you’re more than welcome to take private lessons. Most reputable tutors around are happy to come for one-on-one teaching. However, it’s worth noting this is generally more expensive and takes away a lot of the social aspect that goes along with learning a language. If you are looking for a reputable tutor, it’s best to check online at Expat forums. Usually there are one or two names that will keep popping up time and time again.

For those looking for materials to start your studies, there are some online options. The Luganda Society is a NGO that aims to promote the history and culture of the Luganda language. They have an online primer course for basic Luganda (http://www.buganda.com/luganda.htm). In the course you will find basic grammar, pronunciation guides, and a basic phrasebook. Omniglot also has a page that gives a guide for basic writing in Luganda, including a reference for using Arabic script in Luganda (http://www.omniglot.com/writing/ganda.php). Of course in good ol’ fashioned print, there’s that famous green Luganda/English Phrasebook for Tourists created by Fountain Publishing. You can find these in most bookstores, but they are also commonly found at bus parks and taxi parks, with vendors often pushing them into the hands of light-skinned travelers.

However you choose to learn Luganda, remember that learning a language takes time and real work. For those of us who have Latin/Germanic roots to our language, it can also be especially challenging. Going from French to Spanish isn’t terribly ambitious. But going from English to Luganda? That’s a whole host of sounds and words that won’t make sense right away. That’s alright. Repetition and practice is key. Just keep on it and soon you’ll find yourself engaged in the culture and flavor of Uganda like never before!

Luganda Courses and Resources





About Lizabeth Paulat

Hi, I’m Lizabeth, a freelance writer whose been stomping around Kampala for the better part of two years. I came here while pursuing a story and decided never to leave. I’m originally from Seattle and have found refuge in both the sun and the culture of Kampalans (plus I still get the rain when I’m feeling homesick).I’m always trying to unearth new and interesting stories about Kampala’s culture and development and am so exited to have an amazing platform to explore the city with. I hope to bring a bit of know-how and a bit of fun to Living in Kampala. Feel free to contact me any time at lizabeth@livinginkampala.com.