“Nou marye tanbou nou” You marry your what?

For anyone who has ever endeavored to learn a second language, you know the sense of victory that comes with your first complete sentence.  “Bonjou!  Kòman ou ye?” The world opens up, and anyone might be your first (and maybe unsuspecting) target; you’re ready to practice some Creole!

Fast forward a few minutes, days, or maybe even months or years, and a very different experience surfaces, a moment that plunges you all the way back to the beginning:

“Bonjou! Kouman ou ye?”
“Mwen byen!! Ou pale kreyol?”
“Wi, wi! M’ap aprann!”

… A few simple exchanges follow, things you’re well prepared to handle, and then suddenly, Repeat?  Repeat again please?  Your friend waits for any sign of comprehension…nothing comes. Baffled, you just nod your head and smile.

Unbridled excitement and lofty visions of seamless interaction with native speakers give way to a new revelation: the distance between your Creole and native level fluency is laughable (in a way that sort’ve makes you want to cry).  There is so much more to learn!

But take courage zanmi m! This revelation shouldn’t discourage your efforts, only inform and fortify your resolve; you are on the brink of a more meaningful and profound level of interaction with your Haitian friends, colleagues and partners than was ever possible before.

One of the primary gaps in language learning is failure to distinguish between grammatical fluency and real cultural literacy. It’s one thing to speak the language, and it’s another to truly understand it; that comes with time, experience, and the willingness to dive deeper into the culture. While this applies universally, it is immediately relevant to language and communication in Haiti.

Let’s go back to the title phrase: “Nou marye tanbou nou.”


New learners can translate, it requires just a bit of vocabulary and familiarization with some basic grammar.  “Nou marye tanbou nou” = ” We marry our drums”.

Check it again . . .

Yup that definitely translates to “We marry our drums”.


For a language like Haitian Creole that is rich in imagery and metaphor, translation often isn’t enough to convey meaning, and that can leave learners feeling a bit bewildered.

Learning Haitian Creole is about much more than the steps it takes to create a perfect sentence (Please note, we’re not devaluing those steps, HaitiHub provides access to those foundational building blocks through our language modules because they’re super important for getting started and they DO make a difference!) Like so many things, mastering Haitian Creole comes with layers of experience and an acute awareness of context. For many learners the most challenging aspect of Haitian Creole is also one of its most beautiful characteristics.  To truly understand what our Haitian friends are telling us means embracing Creole’s unique turn of phrase and the poetic spirit of its people.

So, back to it, “Nou marye tanbou nou” more closely represents the idea that, “We harmonize our drums to make music”.  Let’s dance! Ann danse! Wi?

That ultimately depends on context.  While a musical get together might be underway (in which case you’re in for a real treat) you might be jumping the gun, so don’t break out tanbou w’ yo just yet! For this particular phrase, there’s a meaningful metaphorical extension that gets at the very heart of what I’m trying to say.  “Nou marye tanbou nou” can mean: “We gather” or “We join forces”.

That’s what learning Haitian Creole is all about: coming together, joining forces, and using language to promote meaningful change in the relationships we build in Haiti. This can’t stop at just vocabulary and grammar; because language was created to share experience, words gather new layers of meaning over time. Meaningful communication has to take into consideration history, culture and so much more!

The HaitiHub Blog is resurfacing as a forum for discussion on language, service and cross-cultural communication.  For readers familiar with our language-learning site Haitihub.com, you might have noticed the addition of the Serve Smart sessions to supplement the language module learning.  These Serve Smart sessions are an introduction to how the approach to service is evolving throughout the world. We want to make sure we’re at the forefront of that movement, along with our learners.

Your investment in Haiti makes you an important part of the conversation. Please feel free to post below or send us an e-mail at community@haitihub.com to share your thoughts.  We’re looking forward to hearing from you, byenvini nan blog HaitiHub!

– zanmi w’ yo nan HaitiHub

One thought on ““Nou marye tanbou nou” You marry your what?

  1. Dako! Map panse that native speakers appreciate the effort! At least that has consistently been my eksperyans, wi!

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