Learning a Foreign Language
A True Story
on Dec 8, 2022
Some years back, I came across an advice given to high school students that they should learn at least one foreign language, at least one musical instrument and at least one ball game. Later on when I mulled over that piece of advice, I felt glad that I knew how to play the piano and volleyball.
Going by that advice, I thought perhaps the only important thing I missed learning during my high school years at Starehe Boys' Centre was how to read, write and speak a foreign language. And Starehe did offer classes in French and German.
I schooled alongside high school classmates who studied German during the lessons I learnt Music. My deskmate Martin Wamoni was one of those German students. But imagine in all my four years with the classmates studying German, the only German words I learnt from them are the greetings "guten morgen" and "guten tag".
Not until 2006 when I was pursuing a diploma in Information Technology in the institute division of Starehe did I make an effort to learn a foreign language. One afternoon that year, I approached an institute classmate who had studied French in high school and requested him to teach me some French. The classmate acceded to my request and sat me down to tutor me but after just one lesson, I gave up learning French.
In 2010 when I was teaching piano at a small music school in downtown Nairobi, there came to the school a young man I remember as Julius who befriended me and enthusiastically narrated to me the benefits of mastering a foreign language. Julius claimed to know Spanish, a language I heard him speak with admirable fluency.
After we became friends, Julius offered to teach me Spanish. He taught me the language on several afternoons for free using a colorful textbook. But after a few lessons, his enthusiasm waned and he eventually ceased coming to the music school. Since then, I have never heard from him.
It seems I am not the only one in my family who has had a burning desire to learn a foreign language. My immediate elder brother Paddy enrolled for a course in French when he was pursuing an undergraduate degree in Medicine & Surgery at the University of Nairobi. A few years later after I asked him whether he had mastered French, he replied that he wasn't that fluent in the language but he was quick to add that you couldn't cheat him in French.
Recently when my eldest brother Joe Kagigite visited us with his family, I was surprised to note that his daughter, a bubbly eleven-year-old girl named Kayla Wanjeri, knows more French than she does Kikuyu, the native language of our ancestors. Kayla could spout off some French words but she had no clue what a trouser is called in Kikuyu.
Come to think of it, maybe the advice I came across some years back - that high school students should learn at least one foreign language - was meant for those British and American students whose native language is English. And because my native language is Kikuyu, I know one foreign language: English! In fact, I speak, write and read English better than I do Kikuyu.
Although I have been fluent in English since my primary school years, I have to admit that I found it difficult to understand the engineering course I pursued at the university for two years. Given how hard I found the course to be when taught in English, I used to wonder how those Kenyans who won scholarships to study in China, Russia and Japan managed to grasp engineering concepts when taught in Chinese, Russian or Japanese - languages they didn't grow up speaking.
My curiosity led me to question a high school housemate of mine called Emmanuel Karanja if he had trouble understanding scientific concepts in Japanese when he was offered a scholarship to study in Japan. Unhappily, I can't remember Karanja's response to my question. The little I recall from my conversation with him was his assertion that the Japanese people are very hard-working.
Having realized that I know one foreign language (English), I will continue honing my mastery of the English language. I will work on building my vocabulary in the language and on pronouncing its words well so that I can write and speak English with accuracy and elegance. And hopefully, I will become an internationally acclaimed writer and speaker. So help me God.
NEW! NEW! NEW! If you missed my social media update two days ago, let me take this opportunity to inform you that I have produced a new hymn which is available in the videos' section of this blog. Just click on the "videos" link on the menu at the top of this blog to access the hymn.
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Taking Care of Our Possessions
A True Story
on Dec 3, 2022
My hometown of Kiserian, being a typical Third-World shopping centre, has numerous donkeys that are used to pull loaded carts. The men who lead those donkeys are usually ruthless. They whip the donkeys over and over as if donkeys aren't animals that feel pain.
A few years ago, for instance, I saw one man beat his donkey mercilessly as he stood on the cart it was pulling. And he was beating the donkey when it was galloping the best it could, which made a passer-by wonder aloud in Swahili, "The donkey is running very fast and he is still whipping it. What else does he want it to do? To fly?"
With such ruthless beatings, it's small wonder that the donkeys I spot in Kiserian always have wounds all over their bodies, especially on their necks and backs. Boy, don't I feel sorry for them.
If I were an owner of a donkey, I'd ensure it is always healthy and well-fed. When using it to pull a cart, I'd use my voice to guide it, instead of whipping it. And whenever it develops a wound, I would take it to a veterinarian to have it treated.
Why am I saying that? Because I always take care of my possessions as the Bible counsels us in the book of Proverbs. I regularly dust my laptop and piano keyboard. And I am always careful not to expose my smartphone to rain and direct sunlight.
It seems people out there don't look after their possessions the way I do. Just last month when I went to record a song in the studio of a friend, I observed how the friend left his machines running for hours when they were not in use, and how he placed a heavy electronic gadget on top of his piano keyboard without minding whether it could damage the keyboard.
Observing the friend mishandle his studio equipment made me resolve to continue taking utmost care of my possessions. I just don't want to be careless with the possessions I am blessed with, be it my watch, my books or my clothes.
Since nothing is more valuable than health, the greatest possession we all have is our physical bodies. That's why I have been taking care of my body by bathing daily, exercising regularly, drinking water often and eating nutritious meals free of excessive fat, salt and sugar.
I have also been taking care of the body parts that require special attention: the teeth, the eyes and the ears. Not a day has passed in the six months without me brushing my teeth. And I always wear shades on those sunny days when I am out there walking. As for my ears, I have been taking care of them by cleaning them with cotton buds everyday and by not exposing them to too much sound.
Recently, my father showed me an internet article that said using inner-ear earphones to listen to music can damage our hearing. The article alarmed me so much that the following day, I bought a new set of headphones to replace the earphones I had been using to listen to hymns and classical music on my laptop. That shows how much I value my body.
Besides our bodies, the other great possession we all have is our minds. Because our mental health affects our physical health, I have also been taking care of my mind. How? By reading inspiring literature everyday, by meditating on the much that I know and by clarifying my thoughts through writing.
I have also taken care of my mind by nurturing it with positive thoughts, laughing at old jokes and being hopeful that good things will happen to me in the future. But I have to be honest that with all the negative news that bombard us everyday, I have found it difficult to be consistently optimistic. That difficulty notwithstanding, I will continue endeavoring to be hopeful.
Oh, sweet friend, I urge you to also take care of your possessions: your body, your mind and the properties you have labored hard to acquire such as cars, computers and smartphones. Look after them the way a lioness looks after its newly-born cubs. And, as I once advised my friend Nicholas Thuo, "Trust in God but lock your room." Ciao!
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