Sunday, March 29, 2015

Pole Pole Ndio Mwendo

I would venture to guess that learning another language shows up on many bucket lists, along with wonderful ideas of travelling, conversing fluently with the local people. For some, learning languages comes easily and naturally. Interestingly, the most accomplished hyperpolyglot (someone who speaks more than six languages) was a 19th century cardinal thought to have spoken 72 languages. While none of the Parkers is likely to break that record, we have made it halfway through our three months of language school. We thought this would be a good time to share some of our experiences, both good and not so enjoyable, while learning Swahili.

Swahili-English Bible 


We have thoroughly enjoyed our wonderful group of teachers. They have worked hard to teach in ways that are effective for us, even reading us kids’ books to help us learn and retain information. They are remarkably good at understanding what we are trying to communicate, even when the vocabulary and grammar are completely ruined.

Grammar learning
Peter reading



















Each morning, the teachers and students have a time together of songs and a lesson. This week, our teachers felt we had reached the point of being ready to lead this time. This includes choosing a couple of songs for the group to sing, praying, and giving a short sermon, all in Kiswahili. While we are not yet able to speak unscripted, both of us were able to prepare our devotions successfully, Bob on “Amri Kuu” or “The Greatest Commandment” and Andrea on “Sadaka ya Mama Mjane” or “The Widow’s Offering.” It was a gratifying accomplishment and exciting to realize how much we have learned in six weeks. Below are the videos of our lessons.


Andrea leading service






Bob leading service










While in general, we have enjoyed our language-learning experience, there have been difficulties as well. We have definitely had our share of mistakes. Mistakes are a big part of learning anything, including language. It is, however, counter to our personalities and culture to accept mistakes, but we are encouraged to keep trying, speaking, and messing up as that is the way we learn. Some of our more humorous mistakes include:

Bob, trying to say I am going fishing:  “Ninavaa samaki” which means “I am wearing fish.”

Madison, when asked: “Kikombe chake kina nini?” (What is in your mom’s cup?)
Madison 1st attempt: “Kikombe kina mama wangu.” (My mom is in the cup.)
Madison 2nd attempt, wanting to say coffee is in the cup: “Kikombe kina kofia.” (The hat is in the cup.) It’s easy to want to give up at this point……

Andrea, when asked: “Unaelewa?” (You understand?)
Andrea: “Ndiyo. Ninalewa” (Indeed. I am drunk.)

Though frustrating at times, we have had many laughs about our mistakes, misunderstandings, and seemingly endless confusion.

Dada Stella and Madison


The more time we spend in language school, the more we notice that it is increasingly frustrating to be unable to keep up. There are times when we think we should be able to understand far more words, and not be so slow when we do. It is easy to lose patience with ourselves. However, there are two Kiswahili proverbs that our teachers often repeat to us: “Pole pole ndio mwendo,” which is similar to “Slow and steady wins the race”; and, “Haraka haraka haina baraka,” which means “Hurry hurry there is no blessing.” This is a very Kenyan way of approaching life, and we have much to learn from this attitude.


We are so grateful for our time in language school. For the time we have had as a family and with new friends. For the laughter that allows us to find joy in mistakes. For the patience we have learned and are learning to grant ourselves and each other. And we continue to pray for grace to recognize the value of this time and to realize how we glorify God in this experience.



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