Drawing people in with Swahili

The conversations start with Jambo! Habań yako, but the fall Swahili class at Goshen College doesn’t end there. Students are gearing up for their Study-Service Term experience in Tanzania this spring by learning the Swahili language, Tanzanian culture, history and geography.

The young professor duo, Theo and Agnes Odhianmbo, from Musoma, Tanzania, are teaching the basics. Students meet four days a week, in addition to small group and one-on-one conversations. With only a semester’s experience, students will not be fluent when they step off the plane in Tanzania. Yet according to Theo Odhianmbo, they will know enough to draw people in, to form relationships.

Although Tanzania SST students will learn Swahili, the national language, Tanzania’s official language is English. The country’s multilingual region encompasses 123 other dialects.

Combining verbs with tenses and plurality can be difficult and create exceptionally lengthy words said Jay Mast, a junior enrolled in the Swahili class. “But when you get it, it sounds satisfyingly percussive and buttery!”

Laura Krabill, a junior, said she feels privileged to have Theo and Agnes as her professors. She is convinced that learning from native speakers gives the students the best opportunity to learn as much as possible before leaving in January.

This semester is the Odhianmbo duo’s first experience teaching Swahili. However, they are not new to teaching. In Tanzania, Agnes taught at a high school, and Theo was a professor at a theological college.

The Odhianmbo family is dedicated to teaching their four children Swahili—one of whom was born last week. They will continue learning English by living in the U.S., as well as Luo, another language, on visits to Tanzania.

Written by Kelsey Shue

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