Before we arrived in Kenya, I decided I would take a kiswahili class (Kiswahili and English are the two official languages of Kenya). I had three main goals: to get out of the house, to meet people, and to learn a little bit of a new language. I have a lovely bunch of new friends I met at class, and I am out of the house so much that I now have to schedule time to write. As for learning, it’s going to take me a little while to get the hang of this new language.
Here are some of the things I’ve learned so far:
1. Kiswahili uses the same alphabet as English, but it doesn’t have the letters “Q” or “X”. Who needs “Q” and “X” anyway?
2. The Lion King was quite accurate. “Simba” means “lion” in kiswahili. “Rafiki” means “friend.” “Hakuna matata” means “There are no problems.” The only thing I haven’t figured out is why the warthog was named “Pumba,” which means, among other things: “food stuck in teeth”.
3. Kiswahili is not an easy language to learn, even though people will tell you that it is. It’s easier than English because the pronunciation is straightforward and there are very few exceptions to the grammatical rules. But it’s not a language that someone is just going to pick up and speak fluently in a few months.
4. Sentences can be one word. ex. I am going. = Ninaenda. In kisawhili, you can keep tacking on bits and parts to a verb until it’s very long and unwieldy.
5. Kenyans are very friendly and happy to help you practice your language skills. But they will switch to English quickly when it becomes apparent that you have no idea what they are talking about.
6. There are no verb conjugations! Hurray!
7. Instead, there are 8 classes of nouns, and the adjectives must agree with the nouns. Therefore every adjective has about a dozen different forms. (So confusing!)
8. Many people in Nairobi speak a slang version of kiswahili, so they think you are very formal when you use the kiswahili you have learned in class.
(P.S.- That’s me and my teacher, Bilha, in the photo.)