Yesterday, G15 took their language examination, and their stress surrounding the test has made me think quite a bit about my own struggle with learning siSwati.
I have many complaints about the language-learning process and materials here, and even with a relatively substantial effort to learn siSwati through tutoring, I will most likely leave Swaziland unable to have a substantial conversation with anyone in siSwati.
Changes were made this year to the language program, and I hope that G15’s scores are better than my group’s scores. This year’s group was threatened with being sent back to the U.S. if they do not pass the test, and perhaps that was said in hopes of them putting in more effort, but instead it has created a culture of fear, which is not helpful. We should find out on Monday if anyone will be sent home.
I did not pass the language test at the end of PST, although I did pass when I was retested at the end of Integration. I remain confident that singing the Swazi national anthem is the way to pass. We had a practice test during week four and my tester said I did horribly (I did not think it was that bad). One of my biggest complaints is that no one offered me additional help or resources or asked me how I thought I was doing in order to help me catch up.
I know now that there are no additional resources or help for anyone falling behind in siSwati class. SiSwati is an oral language rather than a written one, so there are extremely limited language-learning materials available to Swazis let alone Peace Corps Volunteers.
I really want to know how other Peace Corps posts that teach Bantu languages teach them. For as much as I want to make comparisons, especially to a country like Mozambique that is two hours away and the PCVs finish PST fluent in Portuguese, Portuguese is a language that has teaching resources available.
But that’s enough of comparisons. Comparisons can be the bane of any Peace Corps Volunteer’s experience. So to end a good note, I have spent August’s tutoring lessons learning songs and dances for Umhlanga, the reed dance, which is Swaziland’s next holiday. It has been a lot of fun and a much more interesting way to practice siSwati.