Global Midwifery

Teaching in Multiple Languages

I was really curious how the teaching would go, knowing the women who were coming would be from at least three different countries. As it turned out we had women speaking four languages attend, but most of them knew at least Swahili. The funniest day was Sunday, when Flory hosted a church service for the women. Flory was speaking Swahili, and one of the women was translating for us. But five minutes into his teaching a woman from Rwanda jumped up and complained that the other Rwandans could not understand him. So he taught in Swahili, she stood next to him and translated it to Rwandeze and our dear friend Akyasu translated that into English for us.

Even trying to give them forms to use to keep track of information proved a challenge. I had to write it out in English, explain the meanings to Flory and Georgette, and they had to translate it into two languages so the women understood what was being asked of them. We used a makeshift chalk board to write things out so they could see it.

We learned very quickly that question and answer sessions would be more difficult than anticipated too. Georgette was fantastic in trying to translate questions for us, but the cultural differences made many of the solutions we knew to be impracticable for the women or offensive to their husbands. It was a very slow learning process, which we hope ended with the women feeling equipped to find their own solutions to their problems.

Jennifer Vanderlaan (Author)


  1. maiasong

    Might I suggest Hesperian’s “Helping Health Workers Learn”? It’s very helpful for setting goals that give the health workers ownership of solutions. Great for cross cultural exchanges of information. Sorry, not much help for the multiple languages problem…
    Thank you for the work you are doing – – your comments and experiences are helping me get more clear about how to get started on similar projects in West Africa.

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