The first time I ever spoke Mende was in Tuba, a village in Sembehun 17, Bo, in the Southern Province of Sierra Leone. I learned the basic greetings, and for the most part could not communicate with most people without a translator. I spoke the most Mende I ever had on that first trip to Sierra leone. I learned the following words: Buwaa, bi sie, kahuiena, kahyegoma, baika (thank you), daale (cut), ali pela (go to your house), [the kids annoyed us lol], taa pela (she's at the house?), je (water), (probably not pronounced/spelled properly haha). After some weeks, you pick up just a few words, and it would almost be too easy to learn if I were abondonded there with no English speakers. Once people understand the few things you can say, you think to yourself, "I can do this!"
If I were in Mendeland as a child I would be a native speaker today. I was never taught Mende, never picked it up, and therefore do not speak it as an adult. I've always wanted to be bilingual, and Mende in one of a few languages I'd love to speak. Mende is not a difficult language to learn, however if you are not among Mende speakers you need to make sure you are pronoucing the words and vowels, as there are sounds we do not make in English. Videos and audio recordings do help, although conversations and immersion are best. It's not too late and you can pick up that book or manual today and start your language journey.