(Kiswahili bila Mipaka)
By Josiah Kibira – Fall 2011
How many of you from East Africa would believe me if I told you that there are people in Ghana who are learning to speak Swahili? You would probably say, it could happen. But then what if I said the Swahili teacher is a French woman. You have to admit, that would pique your curiosity.
It’s like in the movies. A French woman teaching Swahili in West Africa. Well, it is not a movie it is real. Her name is Aurelia Ferrari. For her it started as a teenager when she traveled to Senegal on a reforestation camp. As a child, her father traveled a lot and brought gifts and stories from all over the world. This increased her curiosity of the world. After she completed her high school she decided to volunteer in a youth exchange program in her native Paris. Before long she was sent to work as a volunteer in Kenya.
While in Kenya she worked with youth programs and later she would concentrate on working with street children.
She is the first one to admit that clearly Africans do not need guidance from Europeans and that in fact, Africans have tougher survival aptitude than their counterparts in Europe or America considering the hard life they face on a daily basis. Africa was her calling. She had to go there.
It was during her encounter with street children in Kenya that she started to learn Swahili. Her interest grew when she returned to Paris. She enrolled in a Swahili teaching institute and later pursued a PhD in “Sheng”, a slang based Swahili originating in Kenya . And, of course, with a PhD, she could now teach anyone how to speak Swahili. She is fluent in Swahili, English, French and a little bit of Arabic.
She was asked, “Of all languages that you know, why Swahili?”
She said, “ This was to show Africa in a positive light”. She admits that it would have been easy for her to teach French, but feels that the colonial and imperialistic past associated with the French in Africa would not encourage people’s intercultural understanding and commitment to peace and justice. I think she has a good point. She is also very quick to point out the importance of Swahili as a language in the world noting that not only do over 100 million people in the world speak it, but it is taught in over 100 universities in the world. Her mission to teach Swahili to the world has landed her assignments including a two-year stint in Paris and over three years in Ghana.
What is impressive about Aurelia’s immersion in the Swahili culture is her commitment not to use Africa as a place to acquire another entry on her already impressive resume, but to make Africa her home. It was refreshing to find a European who lives in Africa and goes to Europe for a summer vacation.
I was also curious why Ghanaians were interested in Swahili. She said some students take the course as a ploy to get into a second year of the Bachelor’s program, but those who decide to pursue Swahili end up at the University of Dar-Es-Salaam in Tanzania, where they pursue higher levels of Swahili language. Ghana has 70 other native languages and English remains the official language.
In her linguistic studies, she has written a book about the “sheng” Swahili dialect from Kenya and is now working on a book about Swahili in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
But it was her Swahili/French instructional book called “Swahili Bila Mipaka” – or “Swahili Without Borders” that caught our attention.
It is a manual that uses the communicative approach, which is a modern method in language teaching and learning, where the communication and the culture take an important part in the learning process.
The emphasis is on the meaning. The communicative approach gives great importance to the diversity: diversity of types of interaction, diversity of exercises and diversity of subjects.
The data used is authentic data like advertisings, spontaneous conversations and written material. For each lesson, there is a transcription of a conversation.
The manual caught our attention because Aurelia expressed interest in using our film Bongoland 2 as part of conversation transcripts in the manual. After students listen to these conversations, they then go through a series of exercises for comprehension.
Naturally, we were curious why she chose Bongoland 2 to be included in her instructional book. She said, “Other films in Swahili languages concentrated more about the story itself but Bongoland 2gives so many aspects of Swahili culture – the relation between men and women, social organization and the daily life.”
She adds “For instance, we always see on the news that Africans try to run away from Africa, but this film shows us something different and more realistic. There are so many interesting initiatives going on in Africa
We learn so much in this film, to watch this film is like a linguistic and cultural immersion in Tanzania!”
As a French/African woman, Aurelia stands out as a woman on a mission to do good in the world. Her early exposure to the world influenced her not only to see other people as equals, she even took steps to becoming one of them. We can all learn from this great teacher. To see people for who they are, their culture, their feelings and know how they communicate. Isn’t this a simple formula for world peace and understanding? We think so.