Friday, February 28, 2014
“With languages, you can move from one social situation to another. With languages, you are at home anywhere.” ― Edmund de Waal
Kiswahili is the first national language of Tanzania, but the second national language is English. Every politician, every doctor, every head of every company, every employee of hotels and restaurants that cater to foreigners all speak English. However, in the more rural areas only about five percent of the people speak English, and there are a number who cannot speak Swahili—only their tribal language. Kiswahili is taught in the schools as a legacy of Julius Nyere who knew Tanzania needed a common language to bring the more than 100 tribes together as a nation. He also knew that to trade with other countries, to make treaties, and so many other things necessary for progress, English would have to be taught. To that end, today, in order to pass from primary to secondary school, every child has to pass a test in English. To pass from secondary to the University level, each student must also pass a test in English. English speakers have the best jobs and the most opportunity for advancement, but, sadly, few primary teachers speak English and cannot teach it. Karen established her English school eight years ago, basing it on Starfall, a teaching tool she used teaching English as a second language to Hispanic and Marshallese students in Arkansas. Within three months in her class, the students are speaking, singing, writing, and reading in English. She started teaching just six months at a time, but the parents argued successfully for her to make it a one-year program. Her students all ace their national English tests, and there is quite a waiting list to get into her class. She has trained two other teachers, and they do all the teaching now, but it is the same system with the same results. She charges each student $8.00 for the year’s instruction and we pay for any who cannot come up with the money. She has always tried to hold the class size to around fourteen, but now, as always we have 27 students every day. We also feed them beans and rice when they arrive in the afternoon (mornings are for the St. Caryn Pierce preschool). Over 150 of her students have gotten into secondary school since she started her school and some into University. She still doesn’t think she is doing anything of value here, but that’s just the way both of us think a lot of the time. We know it’s wrong, but since we don’t do physical labor every day, and, as we age, we don’t think much about what we’ve accomplished. Maybe that’s just human nature. God knows, and the students and parents know, and that’s what counts.