Back to School

October has been a very busy month here in Madagascar for our family as we transitioned from language school to living daily life in Africa.   I can’t believe that two months have passed since we posted on the blog but we should get caught up as we’ve now settled into a bit of a routine.  Check back soon!


September was dedicated to language school.  For 4 weeks, we were immersed in an intensive overview of the Malagasy language.  From 8am to 12pm every day, we learned nouns, verbs, sentence structure, pronouns, and memorized vocabulary. 

For all that we learned, we still have a long, long way to go.  You don't realize how critical language is until you can't use it.  Imagine going through your day without understanding anyone at the store, in the neighborhood, or on the street.  Communication is obviously required to create and build relationships.  Most Malagasy generally assume that all foreigners speak French.  Their faces often light up when they encounter a “vazaha”, or foreigner, speaking Malagasy regardless of how poorly we speak.  There is a lot that separates the vazaha from Malagasy; speaking the language is a critical way to bridge that gap. 

Please continue to pray that we continue to build our Malagasy and that we can build deeper relationships to the people we meet.   From the Guesthouse workers, to the kids on the soccer field, to the Sarobidy Center and Eden Projects employees, to the people we pass on the street, we want to share Christ’s love and meet the people where they are….and communicate with them in their language.

A few of my favorites things about the Malagasy language:

1) To be or not to be:  The verb “to be” does not exist in Malagasy.  Adjectives can stand alone with subject. “Faly aho.” is a complete sentence where “faly" means “happy”, and “aho" is the first person pronoun “I”.   Not sure how they translate Shakespeare’s famous line nor the “I AM” name for God.  Need to look into those two.

2) Funny money: the verb that translates “to pay” is “mandoa", the same word meaning “to vomit”.  “Mandoa vola” is to pay money, “mandoa” is to vomit.   Suppose its similar to how we say “to cough up” in reference to money.

3) Malagasy words can be very long, by making compound words and using multiple prefixes and suffixes.  For example, the word “bibilava”, or snake, literally translates long(“lava”) animal(“bibi”).  The word “bibikely”, or small(“kely”) animal(“bibi”) means insect.    

Another example using prefixes and suffixes:

  • The word “Natra” means “Learn”. 
  • The verb form, “Mianatra”, adds one of the ubiquitous “M” prefixes. 
  • Add “Mamp..” to the front to ‘make’ the verb. “Mampianatra” is “to make learn”, aka “to teach”.  
  • Change the starting “M” to “P” to indicate the maker:
    • “Pampianatra” is “Teacher”
    • “Pianatra” is “Student”.  
  • There are literally dozens of possible variations of each word using various additions. 

4) Spoken Malagasy often has little resemblance to written, official Malagasy.  There are at least 14 major dialects and many local idioms and mixture of French, especially in the coastal areas.  I recently finished reading “The 8th Continent”, a travelogue of Madagascar written by Peter Tyson.  His comments in Chapter IV, Section 11 ring true: “Unstressed syllables tend to evaporate” and “Our guidebook advises visitors who attempt to speak Malagasy to “swallow as many syllables as you can and drop the last one””.  So true, so true.  

Thanks for reading!  Check back soon for more!