When we first arrived here, two items in our daily lives really bothered us. First was the use of BMT ( Black Man's Time). We are used to it now, but still do not like it! The second one was that we had a hard time to understand the special African accent. There were times that we were very embarrassed as we did not understand what someone had said and had ran out of ways to convey that. Cameroonians speak good English, just like the British and the Australians, but different from the English spoken in the U.S. And, of course, people often use their native languages. Sometimes we cannot tell whether someone is speaking English with an accent, Pidgin English, a native language or French! We are slowly getting better, but we are certainly not perfect yet. Let us give you a few examples here to show you what we mean by " just different!".
Cameroon accents are different from British, Australian, or South African. We think that they sound their vowels with just enough variation to fool our ears. For example, when our dean announced in faculty meeting that faculty should "tuning" the proper forms, we were perplexed until someone told us he said "turn in". One of Tom's colleagues, when talking about an official, told Tom he had "cuedhim". (He meant we later found out "called him".) Another funny example happened to our friend here when he went back to his home in India for his last vacation. Professor Ahuja, a Commonwealth Accounting Professor, was in the Paris Airport waiting for a transfer flight. He was chatting with an Australian who told him " I am going to India to die!" Ahuja naturally asked the Australian "why?".... Finally Ahuja realized that the Australian meant "today" rather than "to die". You can just imagine the "English clash" between an Indian and an Australian. So you have to learn to do a quick scan search for vowels in your mind, so that you can match the proper words with the correct meanings. Of course, then you miss the entire next sentence!
The other kind of difference is the way that terms are used differently. For example, " you are welcome!" is used for all kinds of occasions. It means, besides "welcome", " nice to see you" or "how are you?" or even " we are pleased that you are here". It is the most used terms, when you first meet someone new. When someone tells you that their lights were out at 10 last night, they do not mean that they went to sleep at 10. They meant that the electricity was off at 10. Since the electricity is off quite often here, for us the "lights were out" is another term that we hear often. When our lights go off at night, we will need to have more than just a good "torch" --- a flash light---, we will have to remember not to open our refrigerator, we need to get ready to take a cold shower, and we will miss our daily CNN broadcast. Exam papers are referred to as "scripts", when a student asked Tom for his "scripts" back the first time, Tom had to struggle a while to figure out what he wanted, while the student was obviously frustrated as well.
Another complication may occur to make the situation even worse, which is that Pidgin English may be part of the conversation. We still have a long way to go in that area! It will take years of living here to learn Pidgin. Let us give you a couple of examples: "eye hotting" means that when you are anxious to get what you want, it will show in your eyes; " You go do how" means How do you do?; "Lookcourt tam" means "Take care of me!"; "Work na sense" means "Think when you work" or " Use your mind to work"; When you do not care about something, you say "Me no bishan"; When you want to ask what do you mean, you say "Haba".
Janice is calling Tom "Can go chop!", "Come to eat", Tom better go! You should be able to guess the next one: "We go see another day".