Must Learn To Speak Swahili

I closed my eyes and imagined that I was speaking Swahili or Kiswahili as how many put it. The words melted in my mouth and rolled out of my tongue like butter. It was perfection, I daresay and the locals were amazed at how fluent I was and I couldn’t help but smile. I was speaking a different language, in a country where I will always be seen as the odd one amongst my beautiful, sun-kissed colleagues.

“Den can speak Swahili. Den can speak Swahili. Den can speak Swahili.” I have decided to make this my mantra as I slowly opened my eyes to reality, that as for the moment, my knowledge of the language is limited to “Hujambo, habari ya asubuhi, habari ya mchana, habari ya jioni, habari yako, and kwaheri.


For the past weeks, I have been itching to start my crash-course in learning to speak the language but never really got into doing so until a few days ago. If I wanted to be efficient and really want to make a permanent difference in the local people’s lives, then I have to learn to understand them. Sure, I can understand them via a translator or by physical expression, but understanding their words directly will give me a picture of what is in their hearts. Learning to use the most central skill in expressing ideas and feelings among the locals (in this case, speaking Swahili) will pave the way to many possibilities.

If I can do this then I can truly make a dent by comprehending their whats, hows, and whys. I can earn their respect and trust. I can build relationships which will then serve as my foundation in cultivating initiatives that will hopefully improve the quality of their lives in terms of education, finances, and health. I can aid in slowly eradicating poverty one person at a time. I can do all these and more.

But I am getting ahead of myself again. Before anything else, I have to start in square one – learn the basics by developing the right attitude. Like everything else, learning a new language requires hard work and one has to be motivated or else the effort will amount to nothing. You have to ‘want’ to experience the local culture and one way of doing this is through its language.


Take risks and make mistakes. So what if you’ll sound funny, at least you are learning during the process. Make intelligent guesses and don’t be afraid nor be offended when corrected. It’s part of the whole learning curve. Get involved in the community and talk. Consider every wedding, funeral, haggling moment in the market, travel time in local transportations, or coffee break in the office as opportunities to expand your vocabulary and practice what you have learned. This technique is what many people refer to as as ‘creating a learning opportunity.’ The keywords are observe, listen, and talk. Familiarize yourself with the language. In my case, audio books and internet resources are my floaters for the time being. If you are the forgetful type then I suggest you record what you hear. Prepare a convenient notepad and write them down. Make context clues if memorization is an issue and always remember that application should happen everyday.

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