Ugandan English

Wake-up to a new sound of English – Ugandan style

In this part of the world we also speak English! Really? Call it anything, someone has called it ‘Uglish‘ … Ugandan English will take you by surprise. If you are visiting Uganda for the first time and you are from an English speaking country, you could be in for a shocker here.

Nothing to worry about though, just lay back and listen to the unique sounds and use of the English language and very soon in your subconscious, you will start to flow along.

Very quickly;

Ugandan English is a collection of sounds and English phrases that have been localised – Ugandanised , if you wish! You will quickly notice the difference in meaning and use. To a native Ugandan, this is English in its proper sense, try to talk them out of it and you are in for a very long session. This is largely due to direct translation of Luganda to English!

These phrases are very much part of our day-to-day communication in Uganda; in our social lives, schools, churches, parliament, just about anywhere and every where …

Here are a few common ones (This list is long – use the comments section below to add to it anytime with your new findings);

You are lost

And very likely your reply will be; no am not! This is a classic one. Very confusing on the onset when someone says that to you especially if you haven’t lost your way. It’s simply a friendly gesture to say; ‘I haven’t seen you in a while‘. Typical phrase would be; ‘Hi, you are lost, where have you been hiding?‘ – hiding? Well there you are, there is more to think about here …


I bounced at your place yesterday‘ Certainly another very common one! It’s to say; ‘I passed by your home yesterday only to find that you where not at there’. Quite often, people don’t even call to make appointments / find out if you will be home – they simply take chance … and therefore more likely to bounce!

‘Beep me’

Some will say; ‘flash me‘. Hullo, we are not talking about ‘beepers’ here … It’s all to do with the mobile phone here in Uganda.

‘Beeping’ is calling someone, allowing their phone to ring once before ending the call in hope that they will hear/see the missed call and call you back. Quite often it’s because one does not have enough credit/airtime to complete the call.

Trouble is; if the other person doesn’t have enough credit too, then you have 2 beeps… however, sometimes these beeps are agreed coded messages as in; if the two have arranged to meet, a beep would mean that one has arrived at the venue – just to let the other know. Awesome!

‘Please extend’

When looking for space to sit down – could be in a public place, on the bus, on the taxi, anywhere … one will say; ‘Please extend!’ This is just to politely ask you to move a little to create some space for them to sit.

‘You Get?’

This is used in a typical flow of a conversation, just to make sure you understand what someone is saying/ talking about, ‘You get?‘ … And not that they expect an answer from you. “do you understand what I am saying?”

‘Putting on’

This has got nothing to do with the act of ‘dressing up‘, not in the motion sense! Take for example, ‘Paul was putting on a black suit at the party’ , it’s simply to say that Paul was wearing a black suit at the party. It’s hilarious to think about it in context; ‘Mary was putting on a red dress in church’ – it’s not that she was ‘dressing up’ in church – you get?

‘Slowly-slowly, quickly-quickly, now-now’

Ugandan English at its best – I love this! Welcome to the world of emphasis and urgency – on whether they mean it, that is a different story … but you will hear this quite often. ‘Let’s go now-now‘, ‘please ride slowly-slowly‘. Adding another word is common practice for emphasis or urgency – especially adverbs, go with it …


Let’s talk money – my advise is; quickly replace ‘change‘ with ‘balance‘. Ask for your balance not change. If you want them to keep the change, simply say; ‘keep the balance‘.’Change‘ generally refers to the small denominations – the coins and ‘small’ notes.


I will pick you from the airport‘, perhaps you will want to put ‘up’ somewhere in that sentence – not for majority of Ugandans though! but the idea is to pick you up from the airport – you get?

By the way, English is Uganda’s official international language. It’s mode of learning in schools.

The Birth of Ugandan English

Most of the phrases of Ugandan English are direct translations from the native languages. They come with the true meaning, feeling and sense and quite often you will get a mix-up of the English structure; the verbs, pronouns, adverbs and so on … “For me, I am going to the cinema …‘ ‘Me, I am having coca cola today …‘ Things like; ‘we shall discuss about that tomorrow …‘ sounds grammatically right but is it right given that ‘discuss‘ is ‘talk about‘?

There is a lot more to Ugandan English – this was just to give you a head start. Language evolves and I guess Ugandan English evolves every day. While in Uganda, you will soon discover new phrases.