It was in his hometown, Kilifi, on Kenya’s Indian Ocean coast, that Alfred’s passion for languages was ignited.
‘People there speak Bantu languages,’ he says. ‘Swahili is spoken more than English.’
His first job with languages was working as a translator for a Christian organisation. He translated the Bible from English into Kigiryama, which is spoken in Kilifi. In order to capture the essence of the text he also studied early Biblical languages of Greek and Hebrew too.
Following that he started his own language business translation business. ‘I train other language professionals in how they can improve their skills. I’ve been to about 10 countries in Africa meeting interpreters and translators, discussing how to improve their skills. The only African region I haven’t been to is the north.’
In his work he trains other translators on the ethics of the profession. He encourages colleagues to study their respective mother tongues further and understand the grammar perfectly. ‘I talk about pricing and technology. Right now this is changing. You need to have the right tools. You really don’t need to open a hard copy of a book, you can research online.’
Alfred is a Swahili teacher for BiCortex and says that in his hometown they speak this more correctly than in the capital Nairobi where they speak ‘Sheng – a mixture of Swahili and English.’
When teaching Swahili he likes to always introduce the students to the culture, ‘Swahili started on the coast of Kenya close to Somalia. After independence the government decided that this minority language would be adopted as an official language. Swahili culture comes with food, dress, politeness, respect between young and the old.’
Advantages of Swahili for new learners
For new learners, Swahili has some advantages over other languages in that it doesn’t have gender, but on the other hand it has numerous noun classes, for example to distinguish between animate and inanimate objects. ‘In Swahili you have to learn this otherwise you might refer to a car like a person, if you don’t learn these then people will say, but a car is not alive!’
Alfred keeps a guitar in his office and is passionate about Congolese music, in particular the artist Franco Luambo. So much so that he is currently learning Lingala, spoken in Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo. ‘Some words are the same or similar to Kigiryama,’ he says, ‘that makes it easy to learn.’