I'm sure I've introduced myself in Kiswahili, but it amazes me that it feels like it's a foreign language to me. But it is probably not surprising, since I started school, I have been fluent in English and the trend continued in the same way in elementary school, then high school and university. I was taught Kiswahili in the classroom, like all students who go through schools that follow the education curriculum in Kenya. But outside of that Kiswahili class, it was difficult to find me speaking this language.
At school, especially in the years when we were hoping to sit for national exams, we would have a special day to speak Kiswahili to convince us to express ourselves in this language.
In elementary school, every Friday, during the school meeting, there was an opportunity to reward students for their unique features. The winner of the Kiswahili award was called ‘Bingwa wa Kiswahili’ and would be expected to stand in front of the entire school crowd and read the award-winning essay. I once won this award once.
When I got to high school, Kiswahili was a subject that I struggled with a lot. No doubt it is because of the state of not speaking and not using this language outside the classroom. Literary paper in particular was the one that inspired me the most. Eventually I passed that level of study and joined the university. I have given you my personal description of Kiswahili because although this language is said to have between fifty and one hundred and fifty million speakers, most of us are more proficient in foreign languages, as they are the ones used and considered when we enter university and work environment.
When I joined the university, I studied Mathematics and Computer Science. At first, I was more satisfied with my computer science studies than math, since my mathematics required me to work harder, more difficult for me. In my graduation year, I started looking for a professional field where I could do my final year project. It was important for me that this project involved Computer Science to the same extent as Mathematics, as I felt that I was too busy with maths lessons not to use them. This is how I discovered Data Science and began to be curious to know more about this professional field. To succeed in my project, I decided to do a series of computer-controlled courses on websites designed for this job like EdX (Edx.org) and Coursera (Coursera.org). These studies were free and very satisfying until I decided that, after graduating from my studies, I wanted to find a job as a Data Scientist.
I managed to get a job at a company known as Africa’s Talking where I had the opportunity to develop my knowledge as a Data Scientist according to my career. They gave me the opportunity to attend conferences and workshops that brought together residents in this field of professionalism. In addition, during my three years as an employee of Africa’s Talking, I collaborated with other women who did this work and organized a group called Nairobi Women in Machine Learning and Data Science to help other women who were interested in educating themselves and entering the profession.
In the quest for continued knowledge, I found myself eager to explore an academic field called Machine Learning (ML) that is closely related to Data Science. Machine Learning, as the English name implies, involves how to teach a machine, say a computer, to be able to educate oneself using data and to be able to do things independently, for example choosing from multiple images, as many as millions or even billions, what cats have , or those with fleeing people. There are many uses of ML that permeate our daily lives, especially for many of us who use electronic devices such as phones and computers to share online networks. For those who use email, if you have seen a sentence proposal even before you have finished composing the sentence, this is also the use of ML.
At present, I work in the field of professional language known as Natural Language Processing, which deals with the mechanics of how to understand how human beings communicate using language. There has been a lot of progress in this field especially in foreign languages, such as English and French. The goal of my efforts is to ensure that our African languages are not left behind. My work here at Mozilla involves creating a database of the voices of Kiswahili speakers to enable us to teach the machine how to understand and function with Kiswahili speakers. In a future article, we will explore the benefits of these tools for us as Kiswahili speakers.
My name is Kathleen Siminyu.
I am a resident of Kilifi, Kenya.
I would like to dedicate this article to my Kiswahili teacher in high school, Ms. He refused. By engaging in love and kindness make sure that I do not give up trying to succeed in this lesson.
Swahili should be glorified.
Read more about Swahili work here at Mozilla: