Importance of a Language Mentor
Establishing a regular relationship with a language mentor is a vital – perhaps the most vital – part of your language learning program. In The Whole World Guide to Language Learning, Terry Marshall calls the language mentor/mentee relationship a “special relationship” that sits at the “core” of your language learning program (54). The mentor is both a role model and a guide, helping the language learner to reach his or her language goals.
First, look local
Ideally, you will be able to meet with your language mentor on a regular basis face-to-face. In-person meetings make it easier to work on the whole arc of a language, from vocabulary and grammar to intonation and hand gestures. Unfortunately, this may be difficult for you, as there are only about 1.5 million Acholi speakers in the world, and the vast majority reside in Uganda and South Sudan. Still, you may look to universities in your community that have African Studies programs or African language and cultural groups. Lingusitics departments may also be home to faculty, graduate students or undergraduates that speak Acholi. Beyond your university, look to the local community. If you’re in a larger city, especially, there may be churches, community organizations or immigrant or refugee focused nonprofits that cater to African populations and specifically Ugandan populations. Attend one of their regular meetings, or write an email or make a phone call to see if anyone in these organizations knows of an Acholi speaker, ideally with some teaching background, that you could meet with.
Second, test your networks
If you can’t find a language mentor that is local, next start to think about who you might be connected to that could put you in touch with someone that could help you. For example, in my case I knew that another student in my PhD program was studying Acholi. So, I reached out to her to ask for advice and she connected me with an ideal language mentor! You may have contacts like this who have direct knowledge of Acholi speakers, or you may need to go through a few steps of contacts…i.e. finding someone who knows someone who knows someone. It can be a tasking exercise, but its still worth it. Language mentors that you have some connection to through friends are more likely to work out, given that you have a reference to go on.
Third, try the City Language Center in Kampala
If you haven’t found a language mentor in your local community, or through your personal networks, the next recommendation is to contact the City Language Center in Kampala, Uganda (CLC). The CLC is an independent language school that specializes in helping students and professionals learn Ugandan languages. They have experience setting up long-distance tutoring relationships and routinely work with universities, Peace Corps, etc. Visit http://www.clckampala.com/ to learn more.
Fourth, cast your net far and wide
If you haven’t found a mentor through local community, personal networks or the CLC, start casting your net far and wide. A good resource is the H-Africa listserv. It is an email-based listserv of Africanist academics. Send an email and describe your need for a language mentor in Acholi. You could also find emails for academics at major universities, such as Makerere University in Kampala or Gulu University in Gulu, an Acholi speaking area. Another good resource is the SIT study abroad organization. They send students to Uganda and offer introductory Acholi courses. They have a vast network and may be able to refer you to a language mentor. See this SIT course syllabus with contact information: https://studyabroad.sit.edu/documents/studyabroad/2013SFA-UGR-ACHO1000.pdf
Hopefully these ideas will enable you to succeed in building a special relationship with a language mentor that helps you meet your language goals!