How Language And Warm Weather Keeps Margaret Nankinga Productive

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Jul 15, 2021
by Aaisha Dadi Patel
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How Language And Warm Weather Keeps Margaret Nankinga Productive

Using multilingual approaches, Salzburg Global Fellow Margaret Nankinga is advancing literacy in East Africa Margaret Nankinga (middle) listening to Cameroon's Prof. Sammy Chumbow, President of ACALAN's Assembly of Academicians at an orthography harmonisation workshop held in Kampala some time back. On the left is ACALAN's Uganda focal person, Ruth Muguta from the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development

In December 2017, the snow in Salzburg threw Margaret Nankinga off more than she could have imagined. She was more than 5,000 miles away from the Mukono District – the place in tropical Uganda where she called home – and the etiquette and paraphernalia that snowy winters command made her question what she knew. "How you are supposed to dress, where you leave the coat when you enter a room – that set of things, that is what I call a culture shock," she told Salzburg Global Seminar. "And that is one of the things I still smile about today when I think of Salzburg."

Introduced to Salzburg Global by her friend (and Salzburg alumnus) Mary Goretti Nakabugo, Nankinga participated in Springboard for Talent: Language Learning and Integration in a Globalized World. As part of the Education for Tomorrow's World series, the program engaged key discussions around multilingualism and language learning, feeding into the 'series' broader aim of informing new approaches to learning, skills, and inclusion for different societies.

As an educator and local-language journalist and editor working between Kampala and Mukono in Uganda, Nankinga was perfectly placed to contribute. Passionate about language from the days when her primary school teacher praised the way she read stories aloud, she continued to earn a master's degree in education from Makerere University. Trilingual Nankinga – she speaks English, Kiswahili, and Luganda – is also chairperson of the Luganda Lusoga Lugwere Vehicular Cross-border Language Commission in Uganda, an initiative of the African Academy of Languages (ACALAN), a body of the African Union with a mandate of empowering and promoting African languages.

"Language is the way I live. It is vital; it is crucial," Nankinga told Salzburg Global Seminar. "The daily parts of my life are in my mother tongue, and I think so much can be done with that because when I know my language, I can know the things around me, and then I know how I can put to use the things around me so that we can be of help and of value to life."

Following the interactions she had at Schloss Leopoldskron, Nankinga implemented changes in the Commission's work to make it more accessible. For example, they published an online Luganda/English/Kiswahili lexicon for East Africans – the three languages are key for communication in the region and an online medical terminologies publication in both Luganda and English. "The Salzburg Global experience stressed the importance of mother tongue and multilingualism, and this made us change our approach from writing the above publications in only one language to bilingual and trilingual publications," she said.

And the opportunity to network and take African perspectives to a global stage was refreshing and exciting in many ways. "Salzburg Global is an experience like no other," she said. "Although I had had international experiences mainly around Africa, I think I was not very prepared for the Salzburg experience where geography, intellect, cultures and social diversity meet, clash, harmonize, unlearn and learn from each other, [with] each [person] coming out more experienced and knowledgeable than they were before they met."

The program participants remain in contact with one another, with active group chats running and people sharing their updates and new work. For example, Nankinga recounts an incident where she needed to access a paper online that was restricted until she realized it was written by her fellow program participant Kathleen Heugh. One email later, Heugh - associate professor in applied linguistics at the University of South Australia - sent it through from Adelaide. "I know we have access to each other, and I know if I really needed some help, those people would be there for me."

For Nankinga, understanding the complexities of what language holds drives her passion for working in the field. "Language is storage of what you are and what you have around you," she said. "If you lose that, you lose appreciation of what you are and what you have, and then you keep seeking things which you are not."

And advancing African perspectives remains at the core of her work. "Africa has a lot to contribute to the world," she said, emphasizing that working in different languages improves local access to further knowledge."

Nankinga added, "It's about appreciation and recognizing who we are, how we can learn more about how what is around us can benefit us, and how it can benefit the whole world."