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In most countries in East Africa, including Tanzania, where I was educated, the national language is Swahili, and English is a language only used for official communications. Many Tanzanians who attend secondary school, college, and university never learn how to speak or write English well. To understand why, it is helpful to know a little about the education system in Tanzania.
Children attend primary school from ages 7 to 14. Secondary school is divided into two parts. First comes a four year period known as Ordinary Level (O Level). The individual years are termed “Form One,” “Form Two,” and so on. When a student passes O Level exams, they can continue to High School. This two-year period is known as High School or Advanced Level (A Level), and the years are called “Form Five” and “Form Six.” If one passes exams, the student can continue to college or university.
Many children who live in rural areas grow up speaking their native languages exclusively until they start primary school at age 7. For example, the Sukuma tribe teaches their kids Kisukuma. In primary school, all subjects are taught in Swahili. English is taught as a subject. Therefore, most children do not learn very much English in primary school. Only about 1% of children – those whose parents are rich, or politicians – have an opportunity to study English in private schools called English Medium Schools.
When children join secondary school, Swahili becomes a subject and all other classes are taught in English. However, in my own case – which was not unusual – my teachers in primary and secondary school in Tanzania did not speak English well, and so they struggled. Trying to learn English in Tanzania was difficult. Most of my time was spent cramming and memorizing English words. This is not a good way to learn, so many students fail the exams. Anyhow, when you are in Tanzania, Swahili is used everywhere as the primary medium of communication. For example, parliamentary sessions, courts of law, all government public speeches and addresses, most reporting from media – all of it is in Swahili.
In the U.S., teachers are very professional, and know exactly where they have to begin to teach English to someone with my background. And there are many helpful materials for teaching English here. In addition, the U.S. has more access to technology than Tanzania, so there are many ways for students to practice English when not in class. Teachers have enough time and equipment to correct the grammar and pronunciation of students, and all of this has helped me so much to improve my English language fluency. My current progress in both speaking and writing English has made me very confident that I can communicate with Americans at places of work, and in social activities. I love the American accent so much that I’m confident I will be able to manage it well in the very near future. I’m working on this accent because I love American people. People here are very friendly and also helpful.
I dedicate my progress to my American teachers, at Hope House and elsewhere. They say communication is powerful, and I can assure readers this is true. A lot of people who started learning English at Hope House are now doing great in their workplaces. I give many thanks to my teachers for putting a lot of effort into supporting my English language capabilities