A Japanese former volunteer in Africa has just published a dictionary of Swahili, convinced that speaking the local language is a must for mutual understanding.

Midori Uno first encountered the principal language of Tanzania in 1967 and spent two years in the country as a member of the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers of the Japan International Cooperation Agency.

She took night courses in Swahili at Dar es Salaam University to develop a good "mutual understanding" with Tanzanians.

She went to Africa after graduating from a dressmaking school and taught Tanzanians how to make clothes as well as handicrafts.

"I was told before my departure that I wouldn't have any difficulty speaking English," Uno said. "But I felt my limitations after I went there."

English was "the master's language" brought to the country when it became a British protectorate after World War I, she said.

She said the local people would never reveal their true feelings in English. Besides, the dressmaking students were mostly ordinary homemakers who had no opportunity to study English.

"They opened up to me as a foreigner who did not discriminate against them when I spoke to them in Swahili, which was played down during the period when the country was a protected state," she said.

Since returning to Japan, she has been teaching Swahili at the Foreign Service Training Institute of the Foreign Ministry and at schools, including Soka University and Miyagi Gakuin Women's University.

She created Japanese-Swahili and Swahili-Japanese dictionaries, containing about 10,000 words, that went on sale in September. Each is priced at ¥3,500.