GILBERT AWINO is a communications expert with a master’s degree in communication. He is also a journalism lecturer, Chair of the editorial board of the Public Relations Society of Kenya (PRSK). He tells The Nairobian how he makes over 200k a month teaching Kenyans and Foreigners to speak fluent Swahili.
What motivated you to venture into teaching Kiswahili as a business?
There is a shortage of effective communicators in Kiswahili in Kenya. Many realise that Kiswahili is an effective form of communication when it’s too late.
How has the response been so far?
The response has been impressive. I train politicians and CEOs how to speak to the masses. I also train pastors who want to be effective Kiswahili preachers and foreigners who have never spoken in Kiswahili.
What other businesses do you do apart from this one?
I manage a communications company that specialises in media buying, PR, editorial services and customer service training. We have partnered with nearly all the major media outlets in Kenya and a number in the region. I am a journalism lecturer, though this has taken a break due to school. I am also the chair of the editorial board of Public Relations Society of Kenya (PRSK).
What qualifications sets you apart as a Kiswahili expert?
I am a communications professional with a master’s degree in communications. I have a postgraduate diploma in journalism and forensics. Currently, I am pursuing law to beef up my technical skills. I started my career as a Kiswahili editor in a publishing company, then joined Taifa Leo as an editor before going into full-time PR and communications. Try me if you are struggling with Kiswahili.
Why do you think students in the Coast region fail occasionally in Kiswahili exams yet that is the language’s origin?
Maisha ni mtihani pia. There is language acquired and language learnt. Those who acquire a language from the environment become better speakers. There is something the environment gives you that class can’t. However, exams are usually about the science of language, which any student who puts effort can pass. Those who learn to speak a language first without learning the written beat become corrupted and therefore find it hard to reconcile the inadequacies of spoken word with the written. Therefore, the bara kids put in more effort in Kiswahili exams because they are “disadvantaged”. But we have a number of Kiswahili professionals from the Coast.
Why do you think many leaders find it difficult to speak in Kiswahili, which is a national language?
We were socialised to believe Kiswahili is inferior. Speaking English was a sign of knowledge, success and exposure. Yet the number of Kiswahili speakers in Sub-Saharan Africa is quite large compared to English. It is only the 2010 Constitution that recognised Kiswahili as an official language in Kenya.
Do you think sheng is overtaking Kiswahili?
No. The media has deliberately been promoting the language. Human beings have immense ability to learn many languages. Sheng is the devil we like running to, to justify our inadequacies in Kiswahili. They are not related. No language is static, so some words in sheng have found their way in the mainstream Kiswahili.
What is your take on the fast growth of sheng and its increased use by Kenyans?
Sheng is a product of urbanisation and a language that the youth use to hide meaning from adults. The high population of the youth makes sheng a big thing. No child wants to be like their parents. They only want to be like their parents after they mature and start appreciating them.
Most of the available digital gadgets do not recognise Kiswahili and so users find it cumbersome to communicate in the language. How can this be solved?
Let’s learn the language first – whether through the classroom or environment. The digital gadgets look for where the numbers are because they are in business. If users are good at it, the platform becomes irrelevant.
There has been increased demand for Kiswahili experts around the world. How should Kenya help meet the demand?
By people changing their perception of the language. Let’s preserve our languages. Let your children learn it and speak it early so that they don’t lie to wazungu when they go abroad and are asked to explain something in Kiswahili.
What do you think needs to be done regarding the management of Kiswahili in Kenya?
Legislation. All radio stations must dedicate an hour daily to play Kiswahili songs and programmes. A visit to a “Kiswahili environment” by school children should be encouraged.
How much do you charge for your services?
I charge Sh30,000 for 10 hours. It is a block package, not an hourly package. These charges are standard but if a client wants something extra such as speeches, then we agree. A client once paid me $1,000 (Sh100,000) after two weeks of 40 hours.
On average, how much are you able to make in a monthly?
Between Sh80,000 and Sh200,000.
What have you learnt about Kenyans and foreigners regarding learning Kiswahili?
Currently, I have a mother and a daughter who have never lived in Kenya and I am teaching them Kiswahili. I have observed that those who don’t know Kiswahili at all learn the art of communicating faster than those who have been here.