When I’m having a conversation with someone and I say something, if they understand, most of the time they repeat it. Often if I’ve made a mistake, they correct it which is really useful for me, but I don’t think they’re doing it just to correct me. I think it’s about the way conversation flows.
You see, when I listen to two Tanzanians having a conversation, sometimes they repeat each others’ words too. You can often sit for several minutes with people repeating the same fact or observation back and forth. I’ve wondered whether this was simply because they need something to say or to ease awkwardness. However, it doesn’t just happen in idle conversation or when there’s a silence. Repetition seems a part of Swahili conversation even between good friends.
Perhaps it’s more than merely conversational as well. Stories, sermons and speeches contain more repetition than what I am used to as well. It’s not just a case of stating your point and then moving on to explain it and apply it. There isn’t the same linear flow and there’s a lingering on words and concepts.
Learning language is about so much more than vocab and grammar or even accent and emphasis. It’s also about rhythm and flow. It’s about how a conversation feels, not just what the other person is saying. When I understand someone, I might say, ‘Oh right’ or ‘Uhuh’ or ‘I see’ but I’m starting to think that this is the flow of my English brain and it might be more natural in a Swahili conversation to repeat what a person has said.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.