Ghana has many local languages, but the one most commonly spoken in Accra is Twi (pronounced ‘Tree’). While most people know some English, most Accra residents are fluent in Twi.

In some foreign countries (with the exception of France?), if you know a few words of the local language, it can go a long way. People appreciate the fact that you’ve taken a little time to learn their local tongue. Ghana is no different. Here are some words we’ve learned, thanks mostly to the woman who sells fabric next to the Waste Enterprisers’ office (she’s taken it upon herself to give us a 10-second Twi lesson almost every day).

Meda ase (meh-dah-see) = Thank you (or “I bow at your feet”) 
We say this to everyone, and for the most part, people will laugh hysterically after hearing it. We think (and hope) it’s because most obrunis don’t know the word.

Eti sen? (eh-tee sehn) = How are you?

Eye (eh-yeh) = Good (the only response we’ve been taught!)

Akwaaba (Ahk-wah-bah) = Welcome

Obruni (oh-brew-nee) = White Person

Echina (oh-chee-nah) = Goodbye/Tomorrow 
People have said “tomorrow” to us in English as they leave—interchangeable it seems, although "tomorrow" is usually not actually the day after today—it seems to mean “next time” (as in, “I will have the product that you paid for tomorrow, as in five days from now, not the day after today”).

Carole recently went to the U.S. Embassy in Accra. The Embassy guards were Ghanaian. They were having a conversation amongst themselves and when they noticed Carole, they asked, “Do you hear Twi?” Carole said, “I hear it, but I don’t understand it.” They laughed. One guard inside the station got on the intercom and said, “Do you speak Twi?” Carole said, “No.” He said, “Eti sen?” She replied back the only reply she knew: “Eye.” The guards started howling in laughter. “You do speak Twi!” they replied happily. She suspected not many Americans came to the checkpoint knowing the answer to “Eti sen.” That interaction was the last of her questioning from the guards. Those six Twi words came in handy, and were possibly the funniest things the guards had heard all day.

We’re hoping to get a Twi tutor soon so we can facilitate a little more local interaction. For now, we get by on our good looks and our six words.

For Your Educational Pleasure: There’s a “Speak Twi” app for Apple products if you’re interested in learning some for yourselves. When we get wifi in the office, it will be our first iTunes Store purchase!

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Bud
7/11/2011 06:18:15 am

It's amazing how many people don't learn "thank you" in the local language. I drilled myself with "Epheristo!" so much during Greece 2006 that I still find myself wanting to say it to wait staff at restaurants now and then.

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7/19/2011 03:13:51 am

It is amazing, isn't it? There's a 99% chance that when you say "thank you" in Twi here, the Ghanaian that you're interacting with will laugh because they never hear a white person say it. Why wouldn't you want that interaction? Maybe we'll have to find a Greek restaurant here and try "Epheristo" on for a change. :)

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Well somehow I got to read lots of articles on your blog. It’s amazing how interesting it is for me to visit you very often.

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