Monday, January 23, 2012

Makoko Language School

The tree we sit under in the afternoons

I thought I’d share a bit about what it’s like at language school, so y’all have an idea of what life is like for us these days. Makoko Language School was started in the 1960’s by the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers and for the years has trained missionaries and other westerners in Kiswahili, as well as local languages from this region. The school has since been taken over by the local Catholic Diocese but it continues to teach in much the same manner.

We have 5 classes a day, each 40 minutes long with a 5-minute break in between. Classes run until 12:30, followed by ½ hour lunch and an hour rest. After the rest hour we have 45 minutes in the language lab when we listen to tapes (YES, tapes!) of the stories (hadithi) and dialogues (masungumzo) from the morning classes and practice exercises (mazoezi) from the lessons of the day. After language lab we can be free for the rest of the day, spend more time in the lab, or get help from the teachers who hang out at the school until 3:30.

At first onset it may seem really slack that we are finished our day at 3:30 (or possibly even 2:45 depending on whether I quit after language lab). But after doing this for 2 weeks I’ve quickly learned that my brain can only take so many hours of language acquisition before I’m totally fried. Usually by the time classes are finished and it’s lunchtime I’m so mentally exhausted that I can’t comprehend anymore. The hour nap after lunch has become a necessity for me to get through the day!

Despite my mental exhaustion, after language lab I have been spending time with the teachers hanging out under the tree in the yard. This is good because it allows me to practice some Swahili mixed in with English and I also get an opportunity to ask them questions about Tanzanian culture and customs. The teachers are native Tanzanians from various tribes and different parts of the country. They represent a diversity of ages and they are all really fantastic people! In fact, this weekend a few of us visited the home of one of our teachers to meet his wife and 3-week-old daughter.

I feel like I’ve been handling the challenge of language school very well up until this point. It’s a lot of memorization, but I’ve been able to do whatever was thrown my way with ease. Up until today, that is. Today I feel like I hit a wall. Hard. I can’t really say why, but today I just couldn’t remember anything that we’d learned last week and I was totally overwhelmed with all of the rules and agreements in the language. I was mixing up my “hiki’s” with “hili’s” and my “wa’s” with “ya’s”. Sheesh! We have a dialogue to memorize tonight and I’ve just barely gotten a grasp of it. I know that these feelings and frustrations are not unusual to learning any new language and I know that I will climb this wall and keep going. But man, it’s hard. I just have to keep telling myself that I’m not the first person, nor the last, to learn this language. I WILL do it!

In the meantime, in addition to studying I’m trying to keep my body active by exercising and playing Frisbee, reading a ton of books and watching DVDs. Yesterday I started watching the TV series Glee. I’ve only watched 2 episodes so far, but I have the distinct feeling that this show may just be the thing that gets me through language school.


St. Izzy said...

What got me through the tough mental bits of grad school was Animaniacs. Sometimes you have to force your brain to rest by giving it the equivalent of bubble gum; activity with no real nutritional value.

Tony S. said...

@ St. Izzy: "Hello Nurse!"says (grin)

Tony S. said...

Darn auto correct...please omit "says"

When I was writting after work, I was watching reruns of M*A*S*H. Do whatever will help your focus (and maintain some sanity).

Anonymous said...

The dirt secret of getting through my dissertation is super silly tv. Glee is a good one. I think the same must be for learning a new language and being in class for that many hours a day! Sounds tough. You'll get through and be using it regularly in no time. I think it is completely awesome!!!! Keep at it, lady. We're rooting for you!!!-Kaiser

Anonymous said...

Sorry to bark in on your blogg like this and ask for help...

I have been trying to find a (functioning) internet site with more information on these courses, prices, an e-mail etc.. I would really like to learn a bit as well and I'm planning for mid-May to June. Is there a possibility you could assist me with these contacts?

Thank you very much and keep up the good studies :) /Lotta

Waldie said...

Lotta, you can contact the director of the language school, Fr. Edward Gorczaty, at