Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Day in Our Life at Language School

We are humbled and honored to have heard some clamor for more info on what goes on for us here in Africa.  While there hasn't been much quite ready for Hollywood just yet, we are learning the language at a clipping pace.  Here are a couple of brief snapshots of what the daily life of a student at Mkoko Language School usually looks like.

7:00   Wake up!!   (much better than the standard at HPS, if I may be so bold).  Mass is celebrated at 7, so if we are to go, we usually arise about 15 minutes before seven, but, hey, who's counting?

7:30   Breakfast.   A light meal here, consisting of fruit, toast and an egg to order if one desires.  Fruits range from mango, papaya, pineapple, soursop, bananas, watermelon and lately oranges- all fresh from here on the grounds.  

Hamming it up between class!
8:00 Cram We usually eat quickly so that we can be back to our room by 8 for our 8 to 8:30 cram time.  Usually we are required to memorize mazungumzo  (conversations) or hadithi (stories) and these last precious moments help solidify those infixes and noun classes in our heads.

8:30 Mazungumzo Class
During our Mazungumzo class our teacher reads aloud a conversation between three fictional characters, Damas, Paskalia and Padri Robert (the American Missionary Priest who wants to know everything about everything) concerning topics such as land ownership laws, dowries and circumcision. The teacher also explains what all of the new vocabulary words mean and then they helps cement the sentences into our heads by making us repeat them outloud.  Then, usually, the next day we come in, recite the conversation from the previous day and then start the process over again. 

9:20 Hadithi Class
Damasi, Paskalia, na Padri Robert
A typical classroom with Mwalimu Joakim, Kim and Caitlin
In Hadithi class our teacher reads aloud a story about our friends Damas, Paskalia, and Padri Robert and then similar to the Mazungumzo class, they explain the meaning of the story and then painfully make us repeat each and every word after them. This has proven to be one of the harder classes for us because upon hearing a sentence like "Hapa kwetu, kulingana na kabila za wazazi, mtoto changa anapokelewa kwa furaha na anapewa jina lake"for the first time, the brain tends to shut down and only hear the voice of the parents from the Peanuts cartoons so when the teacher then looks at you and says "jaribu"(try), the only word you can get out is "Hapa...can you repeat that again?"Each time we are presented with a new story, we tend to get overwhelmed, but then after about a half hour of study we are able to memorize the stories and recite them perfectly in class the next day.
Walimu wa Mkoko:  L to R, Dismas, Sylvester and Joakim

10:10 Sarufi Class
Depending on who your teacher is, Sarufi or grammar class can either be an easy or more difficult class. If you have an experienced teacher light bulbs are turning on right and left and you can almost hear things clicking, but some teachers are still learning the ins and outs of explaining grammar in English and it takes a little cooperation to discern exactly how a new part of speech works. All in all, each teacher tries their best and we come to an understanding. During this class we have been introduced to all 12 of the noun classes and all the different tenses one could imagine, even some that don't exist in English.

10:50 Chai
If you ask the average 3rd grader what their favorite subject in school is, most will likely respond with "recess." Call me a 3rd grader, I think my favorite subject is Chai or tea time. Each day after our first 3 classes all of the students and teachers gather in the dining room to drink tea or coffee and eat homemade donuts, scones and occassionally left over pizza. While the refreshments are a bonus, what I honestly like the most about Chai time is that the teachers sit down with us like peers and chat with us. Sometimes we practice our Swahili and sometimes we just practice our English by talking about whatever burning questions the teachers have about America- everything from ice fishing to hip hop music. 

11:05 Mazoezi
For our last two periods of the day, we practice different exercises involving the vocab and grammar from the previous periods.  Depending on the day, this might involve a lot of the teacher saying (in a very distinct voice), "Tena?" (Again?) and hopefully a couple of "Sowas" (Okay, or good).

12:30-2  Lunch and Nap.  True to the warmer countries, a siesta is strictly enforced and appreciated (well, not really enforced, but nothing else is going on and it is terribly hot so the later is indeed true).

2:00-2:45   Language Lab.  All over again we listen to tapes of the teachers reading the Mazungumzo, Hadithi and Mazoezi as we follow along trying to anticipate the correct infixes and subject prefixes, or even the correct vocab word!   The machines are vintage Sony, but they serve their purpose faithfully unless the power is out.  Then, shida kubwa!  

3:00-3:45  Real Mazungumzo!   When we've had all we can of repeating, "Father has drank milk after eating bread," we head out to the benches under the tree where our teachers are leisurely waiting for us to engage in impromptu, meaningful conversation.  This is where the rubber meets the road.  Often the teachers are already deep in discourse on some topic and it takes all the muscles the ear has to just keep up with their electric chatter.  Finally a teacher will have mercy and ask us, in the equivalent of slow, southern drawl, "Caitlin, habari za mazoezi?" (if you guessed this means, how are your exercises, your ready for a visit).  The conversation to follow involves a lot of stumbling and looking to the sky on our part and patience and more "Tena?" on our teachers'!   Here's a short, somewhat staged clip of what typically ensues.   After five creative guesses in the comments section, we'll tell you what Dismas and David are actually talking about.  Guess away!

All in all, we are very grateful for our teachers and the patience and knowledge they give as we seek to learn Swahili!!


  1. I think you're conversation was something similar to, "Will you talk with us so we can film?" "You americanas are kuku." "Did you have to say that on camera?"

  2. I think you are discussing your American accent while speaking Swahili... but how you both are progressing well at language school...?

  3. Great conversation, my favorite part was 'sanna kee dobo' -excuse the spelling - at the :24 mark. Hope you guys are learning and living well!