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  5. "Mlango una uchafu"

"Mlango una uchafu"

Translation:The door has dirt

February 22, 2017



Does this mean a door is dirty? Should I report the 'has'?


"una" translates as "it has", but you should definitely report the fact that "has dirt" is garbled English. Please see my comment below.


"una" is a conjugation of "wa na" which means "has", so you shouldn't report it.


Yes! The English doesn't make sense.


Umm...okay. We agree this English is off, right?


the door is dirty - would be a sensible english phrase


The English is wrong. I have reported it.


the english only exists to aid our understanding of the swahili. errors in the english can sometimes be helpful if they better illustrate swahili grammar.


I would doubt that the course developers put bad (word-for-word) English translations in on purpose to help our understanding of Swahili grammar. (But maybe that isn't quite what you meant.)

That would be like translating "Ma mère me manque" (French) or "Mi madre me manca" (Spanish) as "My mother me misses" in English. What they actually both translate to is "I miss my mother", and it would be misleading to translate the sentence literally.

We need the translation to be the English equivalent of the Swahili sentence, i.e. what people actually say in English. Garbled English doesn't help you learn Swahili, but oversights like "the door has dirt" can act as a reminder of the Swahili structure once you already know the grammar.

So we should keep reporting that the English translation here should be "The door is dirty", so that they eventually correct the unintentional error and remove the confusion.


thanks for your input, i understand that point of view. but i think the best way to learn a language is some balance between literal word-for-word translations and meaning-dependent translations that can lose information going from one way to the other.

it would be fine if the sentence was listed as "the door is dirty" in a university-setting course because those types of courses tend to emphasize prescriptive grammar rules anyways, so the learner would understand the 'true' grammar of the sentence. but duolingo is mostly descriptive and many people do the lessons without ever looking at the 'lightbulb' notes as on mobile. it's important to know that "una" is a conjugation of "to have" and not "is", and i think a goal of language learning is to get to the point where sentence translate to meaning in your head without having to go through english translation first anyways.

also, "the door has dirtiness" is different from "my mother me misses", because the former is grammatically correct but not idiomatic, while the latter is neither. i don't think every sentence should be a literal grammatical translation, but we do need to consciously strike a balance.


Thanks for expanding on your point, giraffe_.

I know there are lots of discussions here about the question of idiomatic vs literal translations. You have probably come across several about the fact that "fruit" is uncountable in English, but the Swahili word "-tunda" is countable. I am with those who say that "matunda" should be translated as "fruit" not "fruits", because when English speakers say "two fruits", they mean two classes of fruit (e.g. oranges and lemons), not two pieces of fruit (e.g. two oranges). So that is a case where the literal translation would be misleading.

In another context (e.g. a textbook) the idomatic English would be shown with the literal translation as well, for example:
"leo kuna joto" = "it's hot today"
(literally: "today there is heat")

In Duolingo, there isn't space for that (unless it's in the lesson tips & notes) so yes, we have to take a chance that the meaning will be clear enough to the students. I would argue that by this point in the course they have probably learned to distinguish "has" from "is" in Swahili, so we don't need to give the baffling literal translation - "has dirt" - that is grammatically correct but not idiomatic English, just to ensure they notice that the word "una" means "has". (In the same way, I think "today there is heat" would baffle students. They would never guess it was a statement about the weather.)

But you are right that a Swahili course is not there to test people's English, and I have also found the English errors in the course useful when they reveal how Swahili works.


good lord, lots of comments - so adding mine. i find, as a very beginner, that the literal translation really helps me learn, and also to apply the word to other situations. so the literal translation here is "a/the door has dirtyness" of course this is not what we say in english, so also "the door is dirty" should also be included. why not just have two answer fields - all the way through, with only the correct english being acceptable for moving on??? I think its 'mango.com' that includes a better literal translation than duolingo does. duolingo's tool tips are not as helpful but could be much more so. of course, my english is not acceptable as i am too lazy to use caps!!!!


Kiingereza kibovu!


What language is this?!


I've reported this several times in the past but it's still only accepting this answer. What a strange translation.


this does not make sense in English


if you can infer the meaning of the swahili sentence from the english sentence, that's all that matters.


The very direct English translation would of course be 'the door has dirtiness' but of course, this is an unnatural sentence in English... This should be 'The/a door is dirty'.


Please forgive this very, very long comment about issues like not accepting “the door is dirty.” I am writing in response to comments above from many people above, including the killearn, giraffe__, Catriona28475 thread, but it might help others understand why this happens so much. This is long, so I’m putting it outside, at the bottom.

It’s been building in me for some time. I hope someone reads it and is validated in their frustration or someone who can make a difference learns something new.

I’m on my 3rd pass through the lesson tree now and I still struggled with this one. The most natural translation is obviously, "The door is dirty." It is by far the best translation. But, in English, I can say (and sound rather natural), "there is dirt on the door". But, they are subtly different.

"The door is dirty," may be literally correct, but it is an idiom for so much more. If I'm baking bread, I say I am dirty, even though there is no dirt on me, only flour, dough, salt, perhaps oil, etc. Dirty, in this context, means that there is something contaminating me, and the door.

But, saying, "There is dirt on the door," is quite clear that it is dirt, not paint or greasy fingerprints or something conceptually vulgar and that it is actually on the door. But, like ‘tu me manques’, the subject and DO are swapped. So, it might feel a little strained.

If, on the other hand, I say, "The door has dirt," I might possibly communicate my meaning, but I will definitely sound like someone who is really, really struggling to learn their English, but, isn’t there yet. The grammar fits into the rules, but this is a construction that no English speaker would ever think of. Does it mean dirt on the door or in the room behind the door or inside the door itself as a construction material or, as the speaker is obviously inept, something else? It anthropomorphizes the door and in reality, the door is not a person and, in English, cannot possess dirt. (I’m exaggerating just a little here, but still. Just, No!)

So, by my level-3 pass, I had learned that ‘a’ means ‘has’ and ‘uchafu’ is actually a noun. So, I guessed, more to see if it would work, and got it right, but, really even more wrong. Because the English was unclear, I was also wondering if I remembered the answers correctly, or if there was actually a different construction for the adjective ‘dirty’. And, because, “the door is dirty” is not also accepted, I still don’t know. I am more confused than before.

The trouble with all of this is that I am an Engineer and like to believe that I think very algorithmically, logically. This is, in giraffe__’s terms, both prescriptive and descriptive. I want to learn the rules of the language before learning the vocabulary (prescriptive), so I can put them together later, but then put them together in the manner of the examples I’ve been told and told the translation to (descriptive). But, it should all follow the algorithm in my head so I can remember it, including my mnemonic devices to pull in the vocabulary. Just like a computer translation program.

But, probably most people (including me, as it turns out), don’t learn that way. We memorize: some the sounds, others the written words, others even more unexpected things like mouth shape and rhythm. We learn the ‘rules’ later, once we have a load of patterns to learn from. This is obviously not prescriptive, and even though it seems like it, it is not really descriptive either because no one described it. It is a third mode, much more like muscle memory to a piano player. You can show him and teach him the theory, but he doesn’t learn to hit the keys until after long hours his brain adapts. It is neurological learning, forming the systemic responses to what we have been exposed to. This is the way that children learn and the way our brains are biologically constructed. That’s why studying grammar in early schools is so much harder than you would expect, especially given that virtually all of the students already speak the language fluently and even, for the most part, correctly apply all the rules before they study grammar. But grammar is still a completely foreign topic for kids and they have to start from scratch.

After a brief immersion program, and then living as an LDS missionary in Mexico for over a year, all my algorithms were gone. I didn’t process anymore. I didn’t even think about using and conjugating the past subjunctive when I used it; It was just what I wanted to say. In fact, I didn’t learn the language until I’d been in Mexico for over a month and I’d stopped trying to apply the algorithms. And then, I found it only very mildly disturbing that all of my childhood memories were all now speaking Spanish. That was not prescriptive, nor descriptive. It just happened because of my neurology.

My algorithmic method (like probably about 1/3 of people try) is an unnatural adaptation I have made because of my education and because I can make a plan around it. When the plan doesn’t work fast enough, I’m frustrated and don’t usually know why I’m not learning as fast as I can program. The truth is, I do this because I have no faith in the real learning process. I really still learn the most and the fastest by memorizing; I just deny that it’s happening most of the time even though my way is much harder. The grammar and vocabulary descriptions give me something to do in the mean time, and make it possible to improve and learn on my own, without my own Anne Sullivan rubbing my face in the water.

If we, the memorizing people are trying to learn a foreign language on DL, we’ve probably accumulated a lot of phrases and constructions by now. And, in many other questions, “is dirty,” is not only accepted but the suggested answer in the tooltips (the hints). Since it’s such an obviously superior translation, it’s impossible for the developers to not let it slip in somewhere.

It is impossible to put in this much material in a language program and remain consistent in using ‘literal’ translations, even ignoring the “tu me manques” type examples which have no obvious literal equivalent, using just the ones that can be made to make sense. (Just try taking the Irish DL course, if you don’t believe me. They actually have a dialect of English words in Irish grammar called Hiberno, and the moderators and developers insist on Hiberno answers in only most questions even though they often make no sense to the students. Ie. no learning takes place. They still put in the clear English answers sometimes because, well, it’s just right.)

If I have rules and descriptions to guide me, I can, to a certain extent, become my own teacher, correcting my own errors, etc. But the repetition is the real key and it only works if I fully understand the tokens. Otherwise, I’m Helen Keller with my face being shoved into the well spigot for the hundredth time and Anne is making my hand spell out, “from underground,” “from underground.” And, all I know is that this is definitely abuse.

Remember, I’m talking here about giving a student a clear Swahili sentence and then forcing them to synthesize a gibberish English sentence because it conforms to your personal learning model. At best (if they understand the gibberish) it seriously distracts from what their brain should be doing so they stop learning, and at worst (if, because it’s unclear, they understand it to mean something incorrect), it actually damages their learning. Usually, they won’t understand it at all and it just builds frustration until they give up on the program.

What I’m saying is they both, no, they all need to be accepted if you’re not going to lose people. All reasonable translations should be in the correct answer database, if they represent an acceptable translation. The correct answer returned when I make a mistake absolutely needs to be a clear English statement of the best translation.

The idea that I, as a teacher, must force my students to learn this certain way is at a minimum misguided. It is lazy. It is so much easier to think that you can cause people to learn by teaching. You can’t. They have to learn it. Your teaching just gives them the raw materials. You have to let them work with these in their own way, no matter how perverse it may seem to your lesson plan. If you don’t (let them), you are guarantied to lose at least half of your students every time because their brains are not working the way you think they are, and you will and can never understand why because you are not them, and you are incapable of forcing them to think you way.

But, if they have successfully translated the sentence, they are learning. Take it on faith, because, it is the only actual insight you’ll get from most people: they got it right. Give them slightly more complex material. Push them towards the written stuff as well, because it will help them to see the patterns so they can become their own teachers. But this, this kind of teaching is just misguided.

Make no mistake, this is not a DouLingo problem. DL has the capability of teaching exceptionally well in all three modes. Swahili is a new release, so it has it’s deficiencies. It will take time to implement everything. Clear audio and clear sentence to sentence translations do the most good. Tooltips give the literal translation and perform the bulk of the descriptive part. Lesson text takes care of the prescriptive part and the rest of the descriptive stuff. DL has all the tools. But, for now, don’t try to short cut this and force people to learn a specific way by giving them bad translations.

I offer this to help, not to demean in any way. I hope this doesn’t offend. We all appreciate the world changing resource that DL is and that we have something, anything, that lets us learn at least a part of the Swahili language. But this is, unless I’m completely whacked in my understanding and experience, possibly, correction, and correction is always difficult, even when we want to welcome it. I hope I am a contributor and not a troll.

You can still leave in the literal answers for those of us who try to think like a computer. But, please, please expand the answers to things that people actually say, and consequently will think of to respond with.

In this case: at least accept, “the door is dirty.”


That was indeed long, but i really enjoyed reading of your realization that childhood memories were in Spanish. It made me laugh! I had to tell my wife!

I wonder if such a thing could happen to us with Swahili! :)

Interesting to hear your perspective as well as others here.

Thanks for your input


In my audio, the "L" in "mlango" is not heard. It sounds a like "mango". Is the "L" to be pronounced?


Yes KathyKerns, the "L" should be pronounced.

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