The Most Important Language in Africa

I’ve briefly discussed this before, but it’s worth saying again: if you’re coming to spend time in Sub-Saharan Africa, and want to be able to speak with the locals, perhaps the most important thing you can learn is a passing understanding of the current happenings in the English Premier League. The most popular league of any sport in Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia is certainly the EPL.
I’ve had “conversations” with kids in Kenya who didn’t speak a word of English, where our whole discussion involved us naming Arsenal players and high-fiving each other (the kid who tried multiple times to get high fives for Manchester United players found his efforts fruitless). I’ve talked about the offensive tactics of the Arsenal coach with a guy in the back of a truck at night in Northern Kenya. And I’ve been on a matatu in Uganda with friends while the radio has been loudly playing a broadcast of an Arsenal game, being commentated in Luganda. (Hearing the announcer excitedly naming Arsenal players’ names, which I recognized, followed by discussion in Luganda, a language I don’t understand at all, made for a bizarre experience).
I’ve found a similar experience with our project’s survey manager here in Ethiopia. He is a terrific guy, and we spend a ton of time talking about work, our survey, our next steps, etc. However, the time at which we best connect is when we’re talking about soccer. We can be mid-conversation, see a soccer story come on the tv, and both stop to listen to it before continuing. It’s considered perfectly acceptable to interrupt the other with the latest news on the ticker at the bottom of the screen.
As I spend more time in African countries, I do hope to learn the local languages (though my efforts to learn Tigrinya, the language of this region in Ethiopia and throughout Eritrea have undoubtedly been my worst efforts to learn a language to date.) However, I know that at the very least, I better stay up to date on my knowledge of soccer.

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