How to Learn the Swahili Language?

Posted in CategoryDiscussions about African languages
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    Mohamed Essam Bakry 1 year ago

    It might be hard to learn a language that is different from your mother-tongue or from any language you are familiar with, especially for beginners in language learning in general. You might not be familiar with the Swahili language, but it is much easier to learn it than many different languages.


    First, what is the Swahili Language?

    Swahili is the official national language spoken in Kenya and Tanzania and is widely used in other countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Comoros Islands, Mozambique, Burundi, and Northern Zambia. It is the most commonly spoken language in East Africa and is recognized as the lingua franca there.  

    The term used for the Swahili language is “Kiswahili,” which is derived from the plural form of the Arabic term “Sahil” which means Coast. The Ki- is added into the beginning to indicate “costal language.”

    Although the syntax and grammar in Swahili are still Bantu, a large portion of Swahili words are derived from Arabic vocabulary due to the exposure to the Arabic language from Arab traders in the past. In addition to that, it can be traced back to the Muslim Swahili people who read the Quran. As a result of contact with foreigners and colonization, Swahili has few words derived from Portuguese, English, French, German, and other languages. Initially, Swahili was written in Arabic as it was highly influenced by Arab culture. However, it became more common to write Swahili in the Latin alphabet by the 19th century.


    Know the difference between regions speaking Swahili:

    Being aware of regional differences is essential. If you learn Swahili from academic resources and went to visit different regions in Kenya for example, you will notice that some regions speak a bit different than what you are used to. Kenyans who live around the Kenyan coast seem to speak the pure form of the Swahili language, this is traced back to where the language was originated. While people who live in the capital city of Kenya, Nairobi, might speak in a slang called “Shang” which combines both Swahili and English.


    Swahili language online courses:

    Start searching for beginner level Swahili lessons, preferably courses that offer both written and audio resources created by Swahili native-speakers. This will help you to start with learning the basic greetings, pronunciation, and sentence structure. Community of Babel offers you high quality texts and audios created by Swahili speakers, in addition to an in-depth text and grammar analysis, and vocabulary. Listen to the audios in Swahili while reading the text to enhance both skills and save time instead of learning them individually.



    If you did not find an online course that suits your needs, don’t be discouraged, try textbooks accompanied with audios. Try to search for the most commonly used words in Swahili. This includes formal and informal greetings, basic phrases, daily essential needs, and words and phrases commonly used by tourists.

    After that, start with pronunciation guides, for example in Swahili there are five vowel sounds and it does not have blended vowels, so when you find two vowels next to each other, you will pronounce both of them individually.

    Try Shadowing. When you listen to audios in Swahili, try to repeat with the speaker, you can start from slow-paced audios and move up to regular speaking speed. You can record yourself to assess how far you came and learn the common mistakes you usually make in pronouncing some consonants or vowels.

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