Africans are Good at Languages

Africans are Good at Languages
I have now been in 12 countries in Africa, spent about one year of my life on this continent, and I continue to be in awe with the ability of African people to learn languages.

Ishaka, Uganda
East Africa
Friday, May 8, 2009


I was sitting outside an Indian owned supermarket in Kasese, Uganda the other day trying to connect the GPS function of the Verizon BlackBerry Storm when this kid start looking over my shoulder.

He says,
“Is that a computer phone?”
I say,
“Yes, but technically I think they call it a Smartphone, however your definition in my opinion is more correct.”

He was polite, considerate and generally helpful, not demanding as is generally a cultural problem here. Therefore, we started to have this intelligent conversation about the map and my present location.

He tells me he can speak eight languages, and he is eight years old, I tell him I can speak English, French and Spanish. And generally as is the rule, they want to know if I can speak his language, I have to say no, and I am not going to try, it is hopelessly difficult for me.

I ask test questions, asking him to explain the words in different languages, and I believe him, he can speak many languages.

I have met many people in both East and West Africa who seem to seamless jump between various languages. I can be sitting here speaking English with a person and suddenly the person starts to speak a local language.

I met three girls in the Holy Leap Restaurant the other day, two from Kenya and one from Rwanda. They are studying at the Western Branch of the Kampala International University here in Ishaka, Uganda.

A person has to ask these students,
“What languages do you speak?”
“How do you talk to each other?”

I am quite sure they are jumping from language to language and dialect as they communicate. I am the simpleton in these conversations; I am the person who is unable to communicate. As best I can tell, they are capable of clarifications in many languages, therefore they will sometimes explain to each other in a local language. Rwandan and Kenyan people do not speak the same language, Ruth the Rwanda girl started to speak to me in French because some areas of Rwanda speak French.

The USA seems to have an acceptance that Black People make better Athletes, that somehow their bodies are better. I cannot say I agree with this, I think it has more to do with an accelerated evolution of American Black because the weak died on slave ships, then masters selected stronger blacks to breed with other stronger blacks. I generally do not find stronger Blacks in Africa.

I however do feel that African people are genetically wired to learn languages twice as fast as white races.

There are three South Korean women who are in Ishaka, their husbands are teaching at the school. The wives do not speak English, and I was laughing as Dickens the manager of the restaurant has learned some Korean words.

There is an Asian invasion here in Africa, Chinese, Koreans and maybe Japanese are here investing and gaining economic favor. The Chinese are building roads; I would love to find out if the local road workers start to learn Chinese because of the inability of Chinese to speak English.

I am naturally mechanical; my genetic makeup allows me to learn computer, engineering, construction and maybe mathematical situations easily. I know I have a gift, I also am painfully aware I do not have the gift of languages. Yes, I can speak French and Spanish, however to learn these language was more willpower and little to do with natural ability. I have readers complain about my English writing ability, this is a good example of my lack of natural language ability.

I do not care if I offend people when I speak of differences between races of people; I refuse to be dysfunctional or politically correct at the sacrifice of honesty. I think and believe the understanding of how we are different allows us to also to know how we are the same. Too crazy, there are tons of Non Governmental Organization here trying to culturally change these countries; however in denial there is a cultural difference. (Whacky)

Sometimes readers think I do not like Africans, this is humorous to me, I have come to Africa now five times, and this is a statement of love.

Hmm, I would suspect that many people would say that Barack Obama is better with language than George W. Bush.

Africans are Good at Languages


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You make many good points. When most people talk about the abilities of a race (or gender) or individual person, they tend to say either that we are all the same, OR each race etc has specific abilities due to XXXX. I believe neither side is true. There are so many factors that it cannot easily be defined. I like your statement about accelerated evolution. Something that is seldom talked about. We are seeing some of that in poor areas of the US where the strong and most aggressive are likely to have the most babies with the most women. I dont know if this is really true, but that is what I am getting from what I see in the news and other input.

If, in fact, Africans are genetically inclined to be better at languages, maybe it has an evolutionary cause. There have been many languages in Africa through history, and not a lot of writing of them. To survive and thrive, you probably had to, in history, be very smart, and good at taking up languages.

Again, this may be true, I dont know. But, one of the many factors is the environment a person grows up in. For example, you grew up on farms. You had mechanical things to do and play with. You needed to figure technical things out. You may have had a natural ability to do these things, but had you instead grown up in an environment where you had no opportunity to learn these things, this talent may have atrophied. I grew up in an environment with a lot of mechanical things etc. So did my brother. He has NO mechanical/technical aptitude. Was that due to natural abilities, or lack there of? Maybe. But it could be something else. My brother did not have the patience to sit with my father and play with these things. He is older and in his formative years my father had less time to help him along with these things. There were more kids in our neighborhood his age during that time, and many more other distractions. So.... was it nature or nurture that caused these differences? I contend that it is both. Had our ages been reversed, I would probably be less technical, and he more, but technical things would have still been easier, more natural, for me, and harder for him.

I have worked with a number people of all races in an office environment. In office environments, you will get people from all walks of life, with all kinds of histories. Other than physical makeup, I see no distinction between any two peoples from similar environments. Abilities, manners, etc tend to be the same. Even the physical makeup seems to change a little over generations. Kids in third and fourth generations seem to be getting heavier, for example. I was working with a black guy recently that was the same age and grew up in a similar environment to one of my nephews. Both came from parents that had decent money, but who had grown up in good solid blue collar families. Both sets of parents went to college etc.. If you stood the two of these men next to each other, and ignored skin color, they could be brothers. Similar voices, similar mannerisms, similar physical makeup, similar intellects, similar jobs. (both were engineers), similar natural abilities.

I could pull up a ton of examples that would support these points. And I am sure you could pull up thousands more than I ever could. Culture and environment seems to be the final deciding factors in who we are, although these factors are not alone in deciding who we are. We have all seen babies that were stubborn from birth, and others that were happy from birth etc.

For years I had been convinced that this whole evolution thing about natural selection was missing something big. That there was more to it. It seemed to happen too fast. It seemed to me that it only took a generation to change some things, and that nobody had to die for the change to take place. And that the animals/people/plants were too stable when there was no reason to change. I felt change was being passed down to the next generation through another means as well as natural selection. Well, it turns out I was right, in a way. according to one theory. It is not simply that the ones most fit live and prosper while the ones that dont die off. There are triggers in the genes of animals (and maybe plants) that can be triggered by various environmental factors. Have plenty of food when you are growing up? The genes of your offspring may have triggers tripped to make them taller or bigger, even if they dont have plenty of food. You grow up during a famine, your kids may be small, even if they have plenty of food. I dont know a lot about the theory. I dont even know if it is a popular one and I certainly dont know how accurate it is, but it does explain a lot about how we are who we are and how people of the world can be so different, yet so much the same.

Bob L

I dont believe blacks are better at language than whites. Not that the idea offends me, just that I think it is wrong. Travel some day to the Caucuses. I took a trip there a few years back. There are nearly 50 languages in a relatively small area. And most people can speak at least a half dozen languages (Russian, Turkic, Azeri, Georgian, Armenian, Osset, etc.) I think the ability to speak many languages is a result of having been raised in a tribal multi-linguic locale where they were exposed to many languages from birth. This is true of black africans and white Caucasians (and whites from the balkan region as well). Americans both white and black are bad at languages because they arent exposed to different languages growing up, same is true for the koreans. But its an interesting post either way.

Touchy subject,but if you go down to the Caribbean you will find some of the dumbest and ugliest people in the world.

Why ? Slave ships dropped off the weak and the dumb and ugly for pennies to ensure the best got to the States in good health.

Effects can still be seen today.

But you did not hear it from me..........

P.S. I went to the University of St. Thomas,USVI for a year and it was equivalent to a 6th grade American public school. In Fact I asked my niece in 6th grade in the States to see if she could do a paper for me in American History concerning the war of 1812. Just to see what she could do and I could spend more time at the beach. She/I got a A :)

If you are priviledged enough to get a trip to Africa, then you will also find it common for some of the youth to speak multiple languages. It has nothing to do with blacks being better at languages, but having been well travelled throughout Africa, a number of things come to mind. For one, they teach second languages in schools from early on, an influx of tourists forces them to communicate in our language, and historically so many ethnic backgrounds have blended in that they naturally adapt to their languages better. We had the same experience though of coming across youth that speak 8-10 languages. Mind boggling! One thing too, they do not have the arrogace of western civilzation thinking everyone should only speak English. In other words they try harder from a young age to be part of the world around them, to their great credit.

I speak French and Spanish fluently. I know when a person or race has an aptitude I do not have.

As for trying or working harder. Not much of that going on here in Africa.

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