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Interview with Mario Niyungeko

Niyungeko, Mario
Bowers, Sarah
Brailsford, Ian
Date of Interview: 
Cultural identification
Mario Niyungeko talks about language learning.
Charlotte Narrative and Conversation Collection
Collection Description: 
Ian Brailsford interviewed Charlotte, NC residents to collect various stories for a class project at UNC Charlotte.
Approx. min IB (Ian Brailsford): Go, go, go [laughs]. OK, let me see [clears throat]. Let me see. Your name is Mario?
MN (Mario Niyungeko): Mario Niyungeko.
IB: How do you say it?
MN: Mario.
IB: And what's your-?
MN: Niyungeko, N-I-Y-U-N-J-G-.
IB: Ooh, G?
MN: Yeah, E-K-O.
IB: E-K-O.
MN: Yeah. \\ [Clears throat] \\
IB: \\ OK. \\ And today is?
MN: February fourth.
IB: Fourth? Thank you. When's your birthday?
MN: Uh, December 12th.
IB: Oh, you just had a birthday then.
MN: Yes.
IB: Congratulations. What year?
MN: Thank you, 1982.
IB: 1982.
MN: I'm old.
IB: Mine's 1974 [laughs]. So what's your age \\ now, 21? \\
MN: \\ I'm 20. \\
IB: 20?
MN: 20, yeah.
IB: Hm, and what country are you from?
MN: I'm from Burundi.
IB: Burundi.
MN: Central Africa.
IB: B-U-R-U-\\ N-D-\\ .
MN: \\ N-D- \\ I.
IB: Have you lived in any other countries?
MN: Just for a while, for few months, two months.
IB: Where at?
MN: Ehh, in Belgium.
IB: Belgium?
MN: Yeah.
IB: Oh, I like Belgium [pause]. Umm, how long have you been in the US?
MN: Uh, it's about, uh, six months.
IB: Six months?
MN: Yes.
IB: Have you been in Charlotte the whole time?
MN: No, I've moved. I've moved, uh, visited New York.
IB: Uh-huh.
MN: New Jersey.
IB: New Jersey? \\ Woo-hoo. \\
MN: \\ Yes and \\ Long Island.
IB: So how long have you been in Charlotte, then? \\ When did you-. //
MN: \\ First when \\ I came in America I spend a week in Washington.
IB: Uh-huh.
MN: And after, I come here, yeah.
IB: So, OK, \\ so that was in the ( ). \\
MN: \\ [Clears throat] And \\ I still live in Charlotte.
IB: OK. What's your native language?
MN: Kirundi.
IB: Kirundi?
MN: Yeah.
IB: How do you spell that?
MN: K-I-R-U-N-D-I.
IB: N-D-I?
MN: Yeah.
IB: You speak any other languages?
MN: Yes, I do.
IB: Oh, \\ what? \\
MN: \\ I speak \\ French.
IB: French?
MN: Yes. And I speak Swahili.
IB: S-W?
MN: A.
IB: A-H?
MN: H.
IB: I.
MN: I, yeah, I do speak Rwandese.
IB: Wah, how do you sell-, spell that?
MN: R-W-A-N-D-E-S-E.
IB: Uh-huh.
MN: Yeah.
IB: Anything else?
MN: English.
IB: Yep, I was going to put that.
MN: [Laughs]
IB: I wanted to hear you say it though \\ [laughs]. \\
MN: \\ Yeah. \\
IB: Um, how far did you go for schoolwork? Did you go to high school?
MN: Yes, yes I did \\ [laughs]. \\
IB: \\ [Laughs] Nice, \\ good. \\
MN: \\ Yes. \\
IB: Did you go to college at all? University?
MN: Not yet, not yet. I have not even started.
IB: OK. That's what you're-.
MN: \\ I'm on ( ). That's what I'm here for. \\
IB: \\ -Going to, getting ready to do that. \\
MN: Hm-hmm.
IB: OK. Have you ever had any jobs?
MN: Yeah. Now I currently work in the, sometimes in Cone Center. I've worked for about three weeks, yeah.
IB: For about three weeks?
MN: Yeah.
IB: What is, what, what is it? What-?
MN: Cone Center.
IB: Cosonta?
MN: Yeah.
IB: What's-oh. The Cone Center.
MN: Yeah.
IB: Oh, what do you do?
MN: Umm I'm in Building Services.
IB: Uh-huh.
MN: Yeah, we set up rooms. We make sure that everything is OK when they begin the meeting they need something like overheads like chalks like any, anything they need, television, VCR, we get it ready to give them.
IB: That's good. Make some money \\ [laughs]. \\
MN: \\ Yeah, \\ yeah that's right.
IB: Yep, OK. Well that's about it on the background stuff. Um, I just wanted to ask you about what kind of language classes you've had. Um, you said you speak, um, French and Swahili?
MN: Uh-huh.
IB: Did you ever have, uh, classes for learning the French and Swahili?
MN: Yeah, yeah in my country we had been colonized by Belgium.
IB: Uh-huh.
MN: And uh, they speak French and our education program is from Belgium.
IB: Uh-huh.
MN: So, we speak French when you have to-, in our classes, in my country and when you get in like third grade, second grade, elementary school.
IB: Uh-huh.
MN: Elementary school we begin learning French but many student, many children they start speaking French with their parents, with their family, friends. \\ Yeah. \\
IB: \\ Oh, \\ cool. So, um, other than that do you speak Swahili? \\ Or-?\\
MN: \\ I speak \\ Swahili because, um, I used to do some business, I mean small business, where we have my friend, my family, and, uh, Swahili in my country is like a business, business languages.
IB: Uh-huh.
MN: Um, I mean they speak language and many foreign people from Somalia, Kenya, Zaire, Tanzania, they both speak Swahili. It's like a, business language. Oh, most of the country in the east coasts of Africa, they speak Swahili.
IB: Cool.
MN: So I've learned that from my friends, from the people I used to work to.
IB: But no classes in school for it?
MN: I've never take Swahili classes yet.
IB: Hmm, cool. What about, uh, uh, Rwandese?
MN: Rwandese like a s-, little bit similar to my native language.
IB: Uh-huh.
MN: Just only they way they write and the way they pronounce words can change.
IB: Uh-huh.
MN: I've been speaking Rwandese, uh, I went to Rwanda a couple times, and I used to have friends, neighborhood from Rwanda.
IB: Uh-huh.
MN: So, I know pretty good. It's not that difference, there's no a big difference. I can understand and speak fluently Rwandese.
IB: Cool. You're lucky [laughs].
MN: Yeah I'm lucky. That's right.
IB: Uh, when did you start learning English?
MN: I start learning English was, uh, when I was in, uh, second, second grade of my high school.
IB: Ooh. So sophomore, \\ sophomore? \\
MN: \\ Hmm, \\ yes, I mean yeah-.
IB: Kind of?
MN: I've been learning for four years.
IB: Four years?
MN: Yeah, but I just take like two hours a week.
IB: Uh-huh.
MN: And now is about 45 minutes and after class you don't have to speak in English. You just learn that's a pen, that's it, articles, like small thing like that, nouns.
IB: Just a lot of nouns, huh? Uh, yeah Mario, um, [clears throat], let's see here, um, so how did you feel about learning English in high school? Is it something \\ you liked or-? \\
MN: \\ Yeah. \\ Yeah, yeah, yeah. I did like English pretty good. Actually, uh, I like languages first and, uh, I was a little bit mad because there's nobody I can, can talk in English. Our teachers studied, there's no many teachers who teach English in my country.
IB: Uh-hmm.
MN: So if you speak English fluently and you can teach English in my country, you s-, teach like five schools or more than that at same time. So you move to that school, to another one, so student never get opportunity to talk with you, to share, I mean a conversation, to practice a little bit. So we just talk in class and class most of the time the teacher is talking to you, you have to listen. So, you know, tomorrow the quiz about that, but, uh, and, ah, I never practiced English before I came in America.
IB: Wow.
MN: But I think it's a wonderful language.
IB: Um, so did the teacher come and stay for like a couple days or just a couple hours a day?
MN: A couple hours, two hours, 45 minutes, 45. And did that once a week. \\ And, yeah. \\
IB: \\ Once a week \\ And then they go to the next school in the same day. Wow, we do it here still, too.
MN: [Laughs]
IB: [Laughs] Yeah, we still do it here. Um, did you feel, so that wasn't helpful, 'cause \\ you didn't get a chance to be with the teacher? \\
MN: \\ Not at all, not at all, yeah, yes, yes, yes. \\
IB: Yeah. Um, what kind of, uh, language assessments, what kind of tests did you have for English?
MN: Hmm, it's like most of the tests we had was, uh, like, uh, uh, conjugation-.
IB: Uhm-hm. \\ Writing down-. \\
MN: \\ -Yeah, \\ I mean to put a verb in all tense-.
IB: Uh-huh.
MN: -Past, present, perfect and, uh, they give you word paragraph and you have to pull the words. They get exact word and line, space.
IB: Kind of fill in the blank?
MN: Yeah.
IB: Ooh. So a lot of fill in the blank? How about multiple choice?
MN: No, never, never. We don't do multiple choice in my country.
IB: No?
MN: No.
IB: Oh, that's neat.
MN: Hm-hmm. I mean they want us to study hard, to learn everything by heart.
IB: [Laughs]
MN: \\ Yeah. \\
IB: Um, what was it like taking the French classes? Um, what kind of exams did you have there? Was it just similar to the English ones?
MN: I mean the French we study grammar, vocabulary, orthography, everything about language.
IB: Um-hmm.
MN: But the, the perfect is that given my f-, biology [bell rings], history, geography, we're in both these class, these classes in, in French-.
IB: Uh-hmm.
MN: -We write in French, in my country don't use books like they do in America.
IB: Uh-huh.
MN: You have to check in with, in the classes, and teach all the notes and you have to write down in your notebooks.
IB: Ah. So did you have an actual class that was called French?
MN: Yes, yes I do.
IB: Actually, but all the other classes \\ used it. \\
MN: \\ Yeah \\ but during my French class we study like, eh, the French history. I mean the time like 1819-.
IB: Oh.
MN: -Like, uh, Napoleon Bonaparte. I mean the story of France, the story of Europe.
IB: So a lot of it was history then, not just language and conjugating French verbs but-.
MN: Yeah. I mean you start to-, in my country, there's two difference in high school-.
IB: Um-hmm.
MN: -I will say middle school is four years-.
IB: Um-hmm.
MN: -And high school is three years.
MN: Yeah. So we start to learn about that and in, uh, high school.
IB: Uh-huh.
MN: The last three years of the high school, you have to study how French had grown, where is the French come from, from Latin. And they, they want student know exactly where French is from.
IB: So you learned about like, the Latin language?
MN: No, no I've never learned Latin.
IB: OK [laughs]. I hated Latin [laughs]. Uh, let's see. Um, how did you feel about taking the tests? Did you consider it something easy or-?
MN: Hmm. What kind of test?
IB: Um, when you're taking the English tests.
MN: In my country?
IB: Uh-hmm.
MN: I guess I was excited to, I mean I was excited to because I, write English was like wonderful. When I'm going to be probably in England and America, I'm going to speak English because in my country we used to watch like, what is like football-.
IB: Uh-huh.
MN: -Football, American football. In my country don't play American football. They both play, play soccer. And when you're watching football or, or resting, they talk only in \\ English. \\
IB: \\ In English. \\
MN: And there's some movie when they new movie, many movies are from America, so [knocking on door] they ( ) they people from America send movies and there are libraries in my country.
SB (Sarah Bowers): ( ) [Start talking in background]
IB: Uh-huh.
MN: And these movies are in English and so you understand Titanic, the first time I watched Titanic was in English. I didn't hear nothing.
IB: Oh, wow.
MN: Yeah and I was mad and writing English, doing tests in English, was like, I want to learn, I want to learn more, I want to speak English fluently. I want to be an English speaker. I was like, I was excited, yes.
IB: Were the, um, uh, directions and stuff for the test in English?
MN: No.
IB: When you had to take a test? Or where they in French?
MN: In English?
IB: Um-hmm. Like if you go to the English class and it says, um, maybe conjugate this verb or something would it say conjugate in French or would it be \\ in English? \\
MN: \\ No, no, no.\\ In English. Yeah, yeah. \\ All of our-. \\
IB: \\ In English? \\
MN: -Tests were wrote in English, that's-.
IB: That's good.
MN: Yes.
IB: That's good.
IB: So did you think the tests were pretty easy for you? Or just because you were excited maybe they were easy?
MN: I mean there was no hard, there was like they, they ask you a car. We say a car or the car or an car, how to take articles, stuff like that. It was, yeah.
IB: Good.
MN: It was easy. \\ I mean-. \\
IB: \\ Good, good. \\
MN: \\ -They taught us more English. \\ [Door shutting]
SB: [End talking in background]
IB: OK. Um, so did you think it was important getting tested on the English? Or was it, would it have just been OK if you were just learning the English? You think testing was real important?
MN: I mean, to get tested, I mean it's pretty good because, uh, if you know that you have a test you get ready for that. And when you're studying, you, you keep something in your mind, when later when you're going to be, I mean in a place where they speak English, you might remember something. Because I guess if you just learn English for an hour and don't speak English again or you don't review your notes, you're going to see, have nothing I mean.
IB: Yup. \\ Just learn and forget, that doesn't help. \\
MN: \\ Yes, right, right, yeah. \\
IB: [Laughs] Cool, um, is there anything, um, specific that you can think about? Anything else that you can think about for learning English? Do they have any private English schools, or anything like that? Some s-, countries like Korea have a special school where you go after your normal school and learn English.
MN: Um, there's an American Embassy in my country.
IB: Uh-huh.
MN: And there is a American Library in my country.
IB: Um-hmm.
MN: So if you go there you can get some books, you can get some lessons about English.
IB: Cool.
MN: I guess they, it's like close a little bit like ELTI.
IB: \\ Uh-huh. \\
MN: \\ You go \\ from a level to another level but they study for like, a student can follow the schedule, that's classes, these classes. Most of the time my country, people who study English are people who do business or people who work in companies-.
IB: \\ Uh-huh. \\
MN: \\ -Because \\ they want to expand their knowledge and their language and they, because, um, there is a, um, big central commercial in Dubai, called Dubai. It's in southwest of Asia.
MN: There is many companies, American and Germans companies.
IB: \\ Uh-huh. \\
MN: \\ And \\ everything's-, there is everything you need, everything you need. Factories, everybody go to buy stuff there and do business in Africa.
IB: What is it called?
MN: Dubai.
IB: Dubai?
MN: Yeah, D-U-B-A-I.
IB: D-U-B-A-I, \\ oh. \\
MN: \\ Yes. \\ It's a pretty good central commercial. In Dubai they only speak English and Swahili. They don't speak \\ French, they don't speak Kirundi-. \\
IB: \\ Ahh. \\
MN: -They don't speak Rwandese, they don't speak-, only English and Swahili.
IB: Ahh.
MN: So when they go there they don't know Swahili, don't know English, they don't-, just know Kirundi. So you have to, have to know they, they got that. You got to learn English and, uh, improve their business.
IB: Yeah, wow. Do you know if they make you, uh, pay for the classes at the American Embassy?
MN: Eh, some of them get paid like just a little bit. It's no, it's almost free.
IB: Yeah. I wondered if it was free for students.
MN: Yes.
IB: That would be good.
MN: Um-hmm.
IB: It should be, it should be. OK. So you like, uh, being in classes at ELTI?
MN: Yeah, yeah I enjoy it pretty good because, uh, when I came first here probably-, Sarah knows who I was [laughs].
IB: \\ [Laughs] \\
MN: \\ I was \\ like, I can hear nothing, I can say nothing. I was like a little bit scared because I say I've never speak English but, they was nice with me and they help me a lot and, uh [pause] I think, I have improved \\ definitely. \\
SB: \\ Well, \\ obviously you have you have made progress.
IB: [Laughs] Y-y-yes.
MN: Yeah and just a little bit.
IB: No, I think you're doing excellent, personally [laughs]. That's why I asked [laughs].
MN: Right.
IB: [Laughs]
MN: I try to do it so-.
IB: I think it's your, uh, trying, your desire to learn English is what's going to get you farther.
MN: Yeah, right. I want to speak English like you and Sarah. Why can't I speak English?
IB: Another year or so and you will, I think. I think, because you've already done an excellent job, I think.
MN: I have no passion, that's my problem. \\ I have to be passionate. \\
IB: \\ [Laughs] \\ Be passionate.
MN: Yes, yes.
IB: Yes, OK. Well, that's all. You ready for lunch?
MN: Yes, thank you.
IB: You want lunch? I'll buy you lunch.
MN: No, thank you.