Tag Archives: learning

Language Learner

Learning a new languages was always going to be a challenge. Three months on I have worked through the greetings, introductions, numbers and times. I have been introduced to the various noun classes (Ki-Vi, Ji -Ma, M-Mi and N class) which are used to indicate singular and plural and the various tenses (present, present irregular, present regular, relevant past, irrelevant past, sooner than expected, expected), negatives, Mahali class 1 and 2 (all about placement of objects), there’s a lot to learn.

The lessons are good but retention is hard especially with so many beginnings and endings to the verbs and nouns. Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever get there.

Basic sentence structure consists of a subject prefix based on the noun class a tense marker and a verb, all very different to English.

Personal pronouns are indicated by a prefix ahead of the verb.

There is a logic to it all and unlike English all letters have a consistent meaning, of course teaching in a n English environment does not help. Even so it is right to get some understanding of Kiswahili and attempt to make some conversation with Tanzanians and understand something of their culture.

Most recently I have been looking at Mahali class which is all is out placement of objects (inside, on or in the vicinity of another object given a suffix of -ni)

So if you wanted to know where the cup was specifically (e.g in a cupboard) you might say

Kikombe kimo kabatini (the cup is in the cupboard)

alternatively you might say

Kabatini mna kikombe (the cupboard is where the cup is)

The mo / mna indicating inside

The plural (cups) would be

Vikombe vimo kabatini (Cups are are in the cupboard)


Kabatini mna vikombe (the Cupboard is where the cups are)

If you wanted a more general location e.g. The cup is somewhere in the house (indicated by ko / kuna)

Kikombe kiko nyumbani

or the house has a cup in it somewhere

Nyumbani kuna Kikombe

In plural

Vikombe viko nyumbani

Nyumbani kuna vikombe

If the cup where specifically on the table (indicated by po / pana)

Kikombe kipo mezani

Or the table is specifically where the cup is

Mezani pana kikombe


Vikombe vipo mezani

Mezani pana vikombe

The negative is indicated by the prefix ha-
Kabatini hamna vikombe
Nyumbani hakuna vikombe
Mezani hapana vikombe

mna become hamna

kuna becomes hakuna

pana becomes hapana

This phraseology is how you end up with the phrase Hakuna Matata (no worries – think Lion King). In other words in general there are no problems

It is also the origin of two words used for no in Swahili – hapana and hamna.

Hamna is considered polite e.g. Hamna pesa meaning “I have no money inside (my wallet /bag /pocket etc)”.

Hapana pesa would be very rude meaning something like “look here I have no money”

It’s all very interesting

Taking the plunge

I have finally taken the plunge and after ten weeks here embarked upon a language course. Living in the British bubble that is Isamilo School has offered precious little opportunity to learn the lingo. Consequently my Kiswahili vocabulary is limited to a few phrases e.g. Hujambo (a form of hello), Kwaheri (a form of goodbye) and phrases such as Samahani (excuse me), assante (please), kidogo (a little), sana (very), but little more. Anita has learnt fast and well which has been both encouraging and daunting. I have tended to rely on her when we’re in town.
Now it’s time I learned for myself. Yesterday I embarked on a course at the Language School where Anita has been learning. My teacher is Mama Salala, a German ex-pat who has become immersed in Tanzania culture . Having someone of a European background but who is fluent in Kiswahili has been a great help.
I have signed up for two hour long lessons per week from 6 to 7 each evening on Wednesday and Thursday. The methods are quite traditional with reading speaking and writing, but the lessons are engaging and there is a mix of culture and language throughout. The hour passes quickly!
Thus far I have learned the many different greetings and farewells in Kiswahili and their cultural significance. I now know a number of ways of saying hello and the various responses you give.
Today we focused on farewells and I realise my Kwaheri was inaccurate in almost all circumstance (except when leaving the house of an individual. Most times the phrase Karibu Tena or Karibuni Tena (pl.) should be used. On the street either Haya (OK), Baadae (later!) can be used or Kesho! (Tomorrow!) – not Kwaheri

Another goodbye is

Haya tutaonana (we’ll meet again)

The response being

Mungu akipenda (God willing)

However more informally I will say