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In praise of Mwalimu Pendo

This awesome woman is our Swahili tutor Pendo. She’s doing a PhD in Swahili linguistics. In the picture, I’m holding a journal article in which she’s written an article. She’s published multiple articles.

Fluency is about so much more than grammar and vocabulary. It’s about knowing the smoothest way to say something, the most natural phrasing, the idioms to use. It’s about practice because no one thinks every word out before they say it, and about having the confidence to rattle it off without having to stop and think. You don’t learn that stuff from a book, and it can be hard to learn in a work environment or in a conversation on the street, where people can’t slow down and explain things.

So we get together with Pendo for 2 hours every Friday and just have a conversation. But one where we stop every now and then and ask her questions about words she used or why she phrased something a particular way. It’s a conversation where she corrects our mistakes, and stops us to make sure that we aren’t just nodding out of politeness while only getting the gist of what she’s saying rather than the full meaning. It’s the kind of thing we expect to continue doing for the entirety of our time in Tanzania, no matter how good we get at Swahili.

As part of our conversation, we swap ideas about current affairs, social issues, theology, parenting, cultural values, science, medicine, shopping, etc. Arthur and I bring presentations that we are doing to double check the vocab and the concepts. Thus it’s valuable to us on many levels, in addition to improving our Swahili.

Pendo is tremendously accomplished, and yet she is unfailingly patient with us. She is kind. She is interested in our lives, and willing to share of hers. She has a great sense of humour, and gives poignant examples and explanatory scenarios. Swahili for ‘teacher’ is mwalimu, and we are so thankful for ours!

Categories: Written by Tamie

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Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at

7 replies

    1. Very little. Sometimes I pre-think questions I want to ask her or topics to discuss. We both take notes of things during the meeting, especially new vocab or proverbs, and sometimes review them afterwards.

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