Learning Swahili From Scratch

Why Swahili?

Note that is it not my first attempt at learning a fourth language. A few weeks ago I decided that my French was good enough and it was time to make an addition to the family. Given that I speak Spanish, English and French, I decided to give Portuguese a try (talk about Eurocentrism). After one week I got bored and quitted. It was too similar to Spanish.

I quitted and started playing my favourite game, Civilization IV. When I got to the start menu, I paid a closer than ever attention at the theme song, which I had previously identified as “random exotic pleasant sounds”. I wondered what language that was. It was Swahili. So I suddenly realized that people outside of Europe and Northern Asia… speak. And their languages are truly fascinating! I spent the rest of the day in Wikipedia being amazed at the vastly different syntaxes, pronunciation, alphabets and grammar of the many languages of the world. Now I can say it is one of my primary interests (but then again, what is not one of my primary interests? ;)).

In short: because Swahili is beautiful and exotic. In shorter: because I like it.

Where To Start?

Now I faced a problem. The two foreign languages I speak were introduced to me at school. I had never started learning a language from zero.

I browsed a little on Amazon and this little book, The Loom Of Language: An Approach To The Mastery Of Many Languages, popped up. A life saver. Even though it is centred mostly on European languages, it made me understand languages better, and is a valuable acquisition given that I plan to learn more of them in the future.

Now for the Swahili. To learn it I decided to rely mostly on the information available online. I only purchased one book, the Lonely Planet Swahili Phrasebook , which turned out to contain much more information on the language than I thought.

The phrasebook itself suggests a very helpful website, The Kamusi Project, which is only one of the many free online resources available. So far, getting started in Swahili is costing me almost nothing :).

I am also reading a lot about the origins of Swahili and the history of Kenya and Tanzania, as well as Swahili music and poetry.

Curiosities

  • Hakuna Matata is Swahili.
  • Swahili is the mother tongue of Lt. Uhura, female African character from the TV Show Star Trek (1966).
  • Swahili is the national language of Kenya and Tanzania, and is the third African language by number of speakers.
  • In 1928, a standard written Swahili was created.
  • The Swahili word for itself is “Kiswahili”.
  • Swahili has only 5 million native speakers, but 80 million have it as a second language.

The Most Important Thing

Determination. I am determined to speak decent Swahili in three months’ time, and then I will decide if the language is worth more time of study.

And I know that as long as I am determined to do it, I will do it 🙂

Wish me luck in this new experience, I will update next month with my progress! And don’t forget that Civilization V is going to be out soon 😉

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4 Comments

Filed under Languages

4 responses to “Learning Swahili From Scratch

  1. waikisays

    Go for it. My mum understands and speaks a bit of Swahili. I’m a native French speaker, I can speak a bit of Spanish as well as Lingala (Congo’s language). I love languages.

    • Lingala, I had never heard of it! I made some quick research… it sounds beautiful! I can see it borrows from French and Portuguese, maybe some Spanish although that seems unlikely.

      I guess I am in love with the Bantu language family! I’ve never been to Africa… I can’t wait to travel there. Countries like Egypt and Kenya always called my attention.

      You speak four languages, then! Awesome. Have you ever been to Spain or a Hispanic country?

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