In raising Max and Elly as bilinguals we typically use the OPOL (one person, one language) family language system. That means that each person in the household speaks their native language to Max and Elly. This was at the advice of our pediatrician here, particularly so that Max and Elly would learn English from me as the only native English speaker. But this also seems to be the preference of Max and Elly. Most of the time when I do speak to them in Swahili they say, “Don’t say Swahili, Mommy! Say English!”
There are a couple of negative side-effects of this approach, however. First of all, I am outnumbered 6:1 by Swahili speakers in the household: Kakasii, Ombeni, Godson, Brenda and our live-in house helpers Anita and Martha. So Max and Elly spend much more time speaking Swahili than they do English. In fact, I would definitely argue that Swahili is their “first language.” As a result, they do tend to stumble on their words or have trouble coming up with the right word when they speak English. (I am working to counteract that by reading English story books every day, which they fortunately love.)
Secondly, since the pressure is on me as the only native English speaker to teach them proper English, I get little-to-no practice speaking Swahili and Max and Elly have far surpassed me in mastering the language. Soon they’ll figure out that they can conspire against me in Swahili and I’ll be none the wiser!
However, I have managed to pick up a few new Swahili words due to the incredible frequency in which they are spoken by Max and Elly:
anguka: fall down
toka!: go away!
sasa hivi!: right now!
nipe: give me
So I may be ill-equipped to interact with adult Tanzanians in their native language, but if a Tanzanian pre-schooler comes along I’m all set!
In case you’d like to master Swahili at a three-year-old level, you can practice the words above using this pronunciation guide I created for our Swahili 101 photo series on our Tanzania Choice Safaris Facebook page (and if you haven’t already, come on over and Like our page):