23 January 2014

grab your backpacks, we are students again!

Sisi ni wanafunzi wa shule ya lugha Makoko!

We are students at the Makoko Language School!


As Michael mentioned in this post, we are now living in Musoma, a town in northeastern Tanzania where our sole purpose for the next three months is to absorb as much KiSwahili into our brains as we possibly can. And with these “old” brains, we’ll see how much we can get to really stick.
town centre of musoma.

“Oh, right,” I can hear you thinking. “It can’t be that difficult. I’m sure it’s like Spanish, only easier. These people need to get a real job!”

A. KiSwahili is difficult.
B. It’s nothing like Spanish or any romance language we’ve ever met. Unfortunately.
C. We’re desperately trying to not ever have real jobs again. Because it’s more fun this way. (Sorry, Moms.)
D. No, seriously. This language is hard.

Just to do a brief dive into KiSwahili, let’s start with the word “this.” It’s pretty simple, right? It’s a demonstrative, used to point to a noun. So in English, we say things like, “This is a goat.” “This is a spoon.” Well, in East Africa, they like to complicate things. Here, the word “this” has to agree in both noun class and singular/plural state with the noun.

So instead of one word in English, “this,” there are TWELVE words (or more) in KiSwahili to mean the same thing. TWELVE.

Has your mind exploded yet? Because mine has.

ugh, this is when i become very jealous of children!

Therefore, to get us learning, our teachers are workin’ us, people. I thought it would be fun to give you a walk-through of a day in the life of Ashley and Michael, kind of like we did when we were in training in New York. That way, you can get a better sense of what this language learning is all about. Get your game faces on!

not a bad game face.

6:00AM – Alarm goes off. We manage to keep ourselves from throwing our alarm across the room and instead, get ready to workout. Gotta exercise the mind and the body! Michael and I have two rooms, so we’re able to clear a space in one of our rooms and exercise for about an hour.

7:00AM – Time to get ready for school! This involves new and abnormal tasks such as tying up our mosquito net, brushing our teeth with boiled water stored in a whisky bottle, and putting on sunscreen and mosquito repellent. Nothing like a little DEET to make you feel fresh and clean.


7:45AM – Breakfast time, which includes toast and a ton of fruit, and sometimes eggs. Avocado, pineapple, mango, banana – you name it, we got it.

8:05AM – We scurry around to do some last minute studying for our first class, which usually involves memorization. Oh, and time to swallow that ever-important malaria pill.


8:30AM – Our first class is called Conversation ("Mazungumzo"). During this time, our teacher recites a conversation in KiSwahili, which introduces new vocabulary words and grammar. Unfortunately, it’s also something we have to memorize and then recite one or two days later.

9:15AM – Next up is Stories ("Haditi"). Similar to Conversation, our teacher recites a full story that we will later have to memorize and recite. This class is also great for inculturation, as we discuss differences between our culture and Tanzanian culture.

10:00AM – Grammar ("Sarufi") is our dreaded third class and, thankfully, is in English. Although we don’t have to recite anything, we are trying to learn concepts like the “this” concept I described above and many, many more. This one is NOT fun, even if it is necessary.

10:40AM – Thank the sweet Lord, time for a tea and coffee break! The cooks are nice enough to make us some doughnuts or sweet breads to accompany it. It’s also a chance to sit and talk with the teachers in KiSwahili in normal conversation.

basically, how we feel if we don't get our break.

11:00AM – Now, we put our grammar into practice. Two teachers bring us through multiple exercises ("Mazoezi") in rapid-fire succession, demonstrating lovely ideas like possessives, verb conjugations, and positive and negative sentences. Those are some not-so-good times.

12:30PM – We get a quick break for lunch, thank goodness, and a chance to rest our brains. Following lunch, we have a free hour, which we usually use to keep up with our studies, make flash cards and practice our memorization.

2:00PM – Language Lab takes up the majority of our afternoon. The lab consists of heading into your own individual booth and playing and re-playing exercises on cassette tapes (yes, cassette tapes), which review all of the classes we’ve had the last few days. Again, it’s not fun, but it does give you a chance to review at your own pace. Judging by the quality, I think these cassette tapes were recorded forty years ago.


4:00PM – By this time Michael and I usually can’t take any more of Language Lab, so we head outside to a bench to ask each other questions, ask our teachers questions, and practice even more KiSwahili.

5:30PM – Time to take a break, fo’ realz. Too much KiSwahili! We treat ourselves to some off-time, going for a walk and talking to locals before dinner.

6:30PM – Dinner time! We eat with our fellow students, discussing difficult topics from the day, questions we have about the language, and just generally, how much we’re struggling. Misery loves company, right?

7:15PM – Back to studying. Just. Can. Not. Stop.

sadly, we are realizing this is true.

8:30PM – Okay, seriously, our brains are fried. Time to be done. We spend the rest of the evening catching up with friends and family online, reading, and hanging out with the other students.

10:00PM – We turn off our computers, put down the mosquito net, and call it a night. Only eight more hours until we get up and do it all over again!

So you can see, we are like the Energizer Bunny over here, going and going and going. By the end of our first week, we were a litttttle burned out.

But the man (a.k.a. KiSwahili) cannot keep us down! Although sometimes he kind of does. Darn you KiSwahili!


We hope this shows you that this language thing is not for the faint of heart and that although it’s not a real job, we might be working harder than we’ve ever worked before in the professional world. Because KiSwahili is HARDCORE, folks.

Any other questions about life so far in Tanzania? We’d be happy to hear (and answer) them! Until next week!

1 comment:

  1. You guys are doing a fantastic job with your blog! I feel like I'm right there with you. God bless you (and your fried brains) as you continue your studies. We are taking good care of Caitlin over here.

    We are tired too but not as much as you. Tomorrow -- we eat, laugh, and play after class!!!!!!!! YIPEE.

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