This book happened by accident. I didn’t imagine that I would be writing it when I first arrived in Kinshasa, nor did I think that I would be putting something like this together during the initial months of study. But as what began as a collection of notes on piles of scrap pieces of A4 gradually became more organised, and I found myself interpreting and explaining various things about Lingala to friends, the project soon started to develop a momentum of its own.

Needless to say, none of this would have been even remotely possibly without the help, support, humour, patience and wisdom of Professor Matthew Kabeya, or without the technical expertise of Jose Molenge, one of the British Embassy Kinshasa’s resident Lingala authorities. I am deeply indebted to both of them.

The book would also not have been possible without the kind support and brilliant contributions of Alban Low. Alban’s illustrations bring the pages alive, conveying a picture of daily life and the nature of Kinshasa and the Democratic Republic of the Congo that are rarely captured.

Thanks also to Sampson Low Ltd., who generously agreed to publish the book. To Benoit Shonga, who kept the house ticking over and was always happy to answer a never-ending stream of random and ridiculously specific questions about pronunciation, grammar and syntax. And to all of the Congolese staff at the British Embassy, who were incredibly helpful, encouraging and supportive.

Helena, Josh, Jenny, Matt, Rosie, Peter and a host of other friends helped to keep me motivated by asking when the book would be ready. And my wife, Lizz, did a marvellous job of keeping my spirits up by looking interested and patiently listening when I rambled on about arcane aspects of some of the finer points of Lingala vocabulary or verb tenses.

Finally, my most heart-felt thanks go to the people of Kinshasa who were always ready to listen and to help – even if they did laugh at me a lot – and who very kindly taught me how to speak their language and to better understand this crazy, chaotic, vibrant and unpredictable city. It has, quite literally, changed my life.

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