Lost in Translation

I am very proud that my Kiswahili is at the level of a 5 year old now apparently .

It is almost phonetic so, if you read it out loud, as long as your accent is not too strong, you’ll pretty much be speaking it.

It has a few words it has absorbed due to modern influences. See if you can guess what these mean:






However, the vast majority of words bear no relation to anything English at all.

And there are many words that are very similar to an English ear but mean completely different things.

Mistakes I have made of late include:

chuoni means to the toilet

chooni means to college

leading to me asking one of the staff if her older children went to the toilet.

Fakiri means to think

Fariki  means to die

which caused some confusion when making conversation with a taxi driver .

Chelewa means to be late

Lewa  means to be drunk

and lewe means to understand

so very many misunderstandings caused by these three. Too numerous to mention!

Tapika  means to vomit

Kupika means to cook

which led to some hilarity as I shouted to a member of staff to pay attention because one of the children was cooking in the corner!

Pronunciation can be a bugger too:

Kunya means to poo

Kunywa means to drink

I have on more than one occasion cheerfully told the mamas I will be back in a minute. I am just going for a poo!

Mbusi means goat

Busu means kiss leading to

“give us a goat!!”

Kumudu  means  to afford

Kuma is a rude slang for fanny

which meant my form filling with a new outreach family took a turn for the worse!

Taka means dirty

Kata means take or turn

My taxi driver responded well to a long list of instructions to another NGO which I later realised was just me saying ‘dirty left ‘ and ‘dirty right’ a lot.

Kondoo means sheep

Kondo means placenta

and ndoo means bucket

so most recently, while trying to teach the staff nursery rhymes and explain them in my English class, I inadvertently introduced them to the less well known rhyme ‘Baa Baa Black Placenta’!

And don’t get me started on the grammar ! In a series entitled ‘Languages I have Massacred ……..

due to a misplaced pronoun, I have also threatened to boil a nightwatchman in water when he asked for a cup of tea!

Oh well , onwards and upwards which may, or may not be , kuendelea na juu.


One thought on “Lost in Translation

  1. Thank you, me and Eveie just had a good giggle at your faux Pas, and you’re doing well, you were at 3 year old level in July! Love ya! Xxx

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