The Kiswahili Challenge

If you’ve ever seen The Lion King, then you probably know that “hakuna matata” basically translates to “no worries.” But do you know what language Timon and Pumbaa are speaking? Read about how Julie Webb, a multi-program alum, is studying Kiswahili here in New York before returning to Tanzania for her Public Health internship!


So I’m learning Kiswahili before I head to Tanzania this summer.

What is Kiswahili you ask?

Well. Let me tell you.

Kiswahili is actually the proper name of the language Swahili, spoken in many countries in East Africa. It’s just that we say it wrong, and don’t even know that we say it wrong. It drives Kiswahili-speaking people crazy!

I had a moment with my tutor at my first proper lesson one weekend. My tutor is from Kenya, and was so impressed that I wanted to learn Kiswahili. At first I didn’t understand—of course I want to learn Kiswahili so I can communicate with people in Tanzania!

After he stressed how happy he was that I wanted to learn his language for like the 5th time, I got it—and we had a semi-emotional moment. It’s rare for an American to go out of their way to learn Kiswahili. He was so impressed that I wanted to spend time in Tanzania and learn his language—an African Language. It meant so much to him for me to be interested in his language and his culture.

Julie posing with Mama Thea, the CCS Tanzania Country Director who has been with CCS for 13 years! Born in the Kilimanjaro region, Mama Thea is a community development worker and an advocate for the power of education.


When people learn English we don’t think it’s exceptional. Sometimes we are rude when people don’t speak English, and almost expect them to. How dare you travel in America and not speak English? Certainly one language isn’t better than the other, and all cultures are unique and exceptional in their own way. Why wouldn’t I want to learn Kiswahili and as much as possible about the culture in Tanzania? Why don’t more people? I get it, having a universal language is helpful. English is widely spoken, but truthfully, I am embarrassed when I travel and meet multilingual people abroad, and I only speak—womp womp—boring old English. I think we can try a little too.

Plus, Kiswahili is a great language and pretty easy to learn! There are 9 main nouns and you just change the 2 letters of the word to say it in a different tense—easy, right? I’ll take a Kiswahili lesson any day over French and Spanish.

The point is that my tutor shouldn’t be surprised to the point of showing actual emotion that an American wants to learn Kiswahili—not because someone is forced to (he also teaches at a military school)—but because someone genuinely wants to.


Check it out: On the CCS Tanzania program, volunteers take Kiswahili lessons at the Home-Base as one of their Cultural & Learning activities!

Originally published on Julie’s blog: JworldwideWebb
"Thoughts, inspiration, and life lessons from an overly curious, adventurous traveler."


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