No English, No Service

In many Tanzanian schools the refrain “No English, No Service” is well known. It’s another example of African English which I have realised is quite different to the English I am used to.

This week, Sadath introduced the “No English No Service” policy at Kijana Kwanza. Students are required to speak English all the time. If they ask a question in Swahili, they don’t get an answer. And if they don’t know how to say it in English they must go back to their books and dictionaries and figure out how to express themselves.

The positive impact of all this is, is that students are silent most of the time! The usual racket of quarelling boys has been replaced by a calmness. And some of the things the students come out with is objectively hilarious.

Riziki has invented an entirely new vocabulary. If he doesn’t know a verb in English he says it in Swahili with one of many common English word endings (suffixes) such as ‘-ing’ or ‘-tion’.

So ‘cleaning’ is ‘safisha-ing’ (from the verb kusafisha = to clean). I’m continually impressed by Riziki’s creativity and commitment to expanding the Oxford Dictionary with words of foreign provenance.

Ericki is now the quietest student – unfortunately his grasp of English is rather poor – and it means that he hardly speaks at all. I do worry though. A blanket No Swahili policy may only kill his confidence and stop him from trying. I guess the staff must employ more flexibility, at least for now, so that no one is left behind. After all, we can only run as fast as our slowest member.