Much like Canada, Cameroon is officially bilingual. We are living in the French-speaking part of the country and need to communicate in French when we meet people on the street, go to the store or market, and to communicate at work. But there’s also a lot of English.
Since Yaoundé is the capital, many people are here from all over the country, including many anglophones (I may have written a bit about this in the past). Part of meeting someone is learning whether they are english or french speaking. And, since both languages are used by many people, there’s a working assumption that everyone is able to understand both languages.
This leads to some interesting experiences.
To put this in perspective, we have a weekly chapel meeting at our office on Friday mornings. Recently, one of the Cameroonian directors, who is Francophone, gave the presentation on his department in French. However, he used a set of powerpoint slides that were entirely in English to go along with his presentation. He also asked a few of his direct reports to come up and say a few words, some spoke in English and some in French.
It was expected that everyone there could follow along to this mix of languages.
Another colleague noted that on the national newscasts, stories are presented in both languages throughout the program. However, they are not repeated in each language — instead some stories are presented in English and some stories presented in French. If you want to hear *all* the news, you need to understand both languages.
Our time in French study has been incredibly useful for getting through daily life here in Cameroon, but sometimes you have to stay on your bilingual toes.