The Kenyan that Brought Swahili to German Governmental Institutions

Alice Mangat
Kenyan teacher and author, Alice Mangat. Photo Credits.

How often do you encounter a prayer in a non-religious book, more so a language text book? Well, in her book, Swahili for Foreigners, Alice Wanjiku Mangat remembered God after accomplishing what must have been one of her most arduous task in the academic world — writing a textbook for a set of informal set of learners in a foreign country.

Her acknowledgment page, appropriately named ‘Gratitude’ stands out for her dedication and prayer to God: “Heavenly Father, I thank You for the opportunities, wisdom and love You have provided me in order to write this book… “

Yet the book has nothing else religious but everything Kiswahili and all that a foreign tourist or expatriate or business person would need to meet, greet and interact variously with the citizens of Kenya and Tanzania, the cradle of Kiswahili language.

Anyone who has visited a foreign land may have grappled with the irresistible urge to learn its national or native language. The temptation afflicts even the rulers of the world’s super power countries as was seen in Kenya in 2015 when President Barack Obama visited Kenya. He took time in one of the forums to greet the audience in both Kiswahili and Sheng.

 Mangat is a Kenyan citizen living Germany, where she teaches Kiswahili. Her students at a German governmental institution comprise largely of expats set to visit East Africa on various government development programmes. What started as an accidental venture, nearly 40 years ago, has flourished into a cherished twin career as both a teacher and writer.

When she was appointed, she had neither a background in teaching nor formal training in the Kiswahili. Worse still, there were not enough resources on the subject in Germany.

Not one to be discouraged, she embarked on rigorous research to generate notes for her lessons and eventually compiled the notes into two books; Swahili for Foreigners books 1 & 2.

Swahili for Foreigners is an interactive textbook that offers basic Swahili grammar with translation in English. Beside a brief historical background of the Kiswahili language in East Africa, the 300-page book consists of 12 units exploring various themes from first contacts (greetings) to the home, shops, restaurants, offices, airports etc, complete with the various vocabulary, syntax and language patterns that appertains such situations.

Similarly the book sensitises the readers on the colloquial aspects (lugha ya mtaani) as well as the cultural characteristics of Kiswahili speakers. For instance, they are described as generous in both food and information. They welcome visitors warmly and offer them food and drinks regardless of their budgets. And even if you are full, do not decline the offer completely but take at least a morsel.

Wanjikũ’s full names are Alice Wanjikũ Mangat. Her names, apart from Wanjikũ which is a well known Kikuyu women name makes it difficult to identify her origin. Alice is a Christian name, Wanjikũ her birth name given to her by her dearest Kikuyu mother, and Mangat is the surname of her dearest father who was an Indian. Wanjikũ was born and brought up and lived in Kenya until 1977 when she went to Germany. She is native speaker of Kikuyu, Swahili and understands a few other languages of Kenya related to Bantu group. She speaks fluent English and German too. Before coming to Germany, she worked in different companies in Kenya as a secretary.

In Germany she first worked with radio service Deutsche Welle, Swahili department as a freelance journalist and later in 1982 joined an International organisation, which prepare the German experts who go to work for development projects in East Africa.

However, most of her students were kind and patient giving her time to sort herself out. She did not give up but continued to do more research on all grammatical rules in order to give satisfactory explanations. The students pushed her where she is now with their questions “how”; “why”; “how come”. Now she is one of the best Swahili teachers for foreigners especially Germans and advisor for the new teachers who like to teach this most beautiful languages of Africa. Her method of teaching is simple, short and very logic which leads to speaking correct and perfect Swahili within a very short time. This however, depends on the motivation of the learner…

She is in a process of publishing more text books for Swahili, African story book, African cooking book, children ABC and other things. The inspiring author biography about her life is also in process of being published.

This book tells her story which begins at her birth in the middle of colonial struggle in Kenya; her own struggle in Kenya as half Indian during her childhood; coming to Germany and bringing up her children as a single parent in a foreign country; fighting racism; the struggle with the foreign office to achieve her stay permit in a clean way, and eventually her teaching carrier in Germany, etc. She is Catholic by faith, and devoted to the Christian values.

Wanjikũ is a single mother of 2 grown up children, among them renowned musician Faiz Kevin Mangat, popularly known as Faiz.


-Daily Nation

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