Goal #1: “I want to be a royal”

Goal-setting 101 continued…

Why not ease ourselves into my series of Goals posts with a humorous anecdote?

"I want to be a royal"

As the 8th Grade class jotted down their answers to the question

What is a goal you have for your future and what will you do to achieve it?

I wafted about from pupil to pupil, reading over their shoulders and providing help where they asked for it. In passing, I noticed that Jane* had written “I want to be a royal.” Donning my best encouraging teacher face, I attempted to understand what she hoped for her future.

“So does that mean you want to be a queen or a princess or something like that?”


“And how are you going to achieve that goal?”

Blank stare.

“Will you have to marry a prince then?”


A conversation on the matter did not seem particularly forthcoming so I moved on.

When everyone had had the time to consider their dreams and aspirations they each stood at the front of the class and presented what they had written before their classmates. When Jane stood up I was expecting some kind of discussion of Zambian and/or international royalty.

Allow me to segue for a moment on to the complexities and intricacies of the Bemba language. Similarly to Japanese, and many other languages around the world, Bemba does not distinguish between the l and r sounds that we have in English. English words, such as family for instance, may therefore be pronounced as famiry.

Back to the story.

Jane stood before us all and confidently read, “When I grow up I want to be a lawyer.”

I want to help people in the court

I had not read the reverse side of her paper, the one that explained how she wanted to “help people in the court.” Jane had, it seemed, transposed the word in her head on to the paper using a phonetic spelling that just happened to have a different – but still plausible given the context – meaning . Or perhaps she had seen the word ‘royal’ written down and interpreted it, in her head, as meaning ‘lawyer’.

I couldn’t help but laugh despite my ‘encouraging teacher’ mode.


My Notes

English is one of Zambia’s official languages and is widely spoken and understood around the country, but the level of English spoken in rural communities without electricity can be poor. As you can imagine, I encountered many instances of linguistic mishap and the effects of Bemblish. Being a Linguistics student, three months of first-hand experience of so many linguistic phenomena certainly had the cogs a-whirring and awakened my inner geek.

I’d like to point out that Jane probably spoke some of the best English in the class. She was a 17-year-old from the city who was spending a year with her grandmother in the bush to see how the other half lives. In general speech she did not confuse the l and r sounds of English nearly as much as her comrades. Yet in this particular task she mistook both her own spelling and my spoken questions. I won’t bore you all with my thoughts on this, but think it worth explaining my surprise at Jane’s apparent struggle with the language.


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