I really want this blog to be able to help people before they go on a trip similar to mine. If you are going to Tanzania (or Kenya, or maybe other surrounding regions), then you are probably hoping to learn Swahili. It really helped me get my job and is a really fun language to learn. I am not an expert… I am actually terrible at learning other languages — it takes me a lot of time and effort to really retain anything. However, I have gathered a lot of material that has helped me out. So, if you are learning a language, specifically Swahili, here is cheap guide to getting started.

To begin, I always found myself saying “without being immersed, it is impossible for me to really learn a language”. While this is true to some extent, I really do think that you can learn a language like Swahili in Ottawa, where there are very few speakers. I found this post really helped me understand that you can immerse yourself no matter where you are. I try whenever I can to listen to music or newscasts in Swahili at work, just to get a better ear for the language. And when I walk to work, I try to memorize new words or point out things around me in Swahili. The key is just to take the moments where you aren’t really busy, and using that as a chance to immerse yourself.

I learned quickly that learning a language properly can be really expensive, and not all language programs are the best way to conquer a language. I have gotten Pimsleur’s Teach Yourself Swahili and Rosetta Stone, and although that helped me with vocabulary, it didn’t help me with forming new sentences or really learn what I was saying (i.e. grammar).  What I did find is that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get really great resources. Particularly, FSI Swahili tapes and booklet (which is completely free online!) is the best resource I have found. This might be old, but it is really amazing at helping you build vocabulary and participating in conversations, and also has a great book that maps it all out for you. No worries if you are not learning Swahili, there are also other languages on this site as well.

I strongly recommend (I know this is obvious) getting a tutor or a friend to help you out, because it is a great way to get a regular space for learning and make sure you are saying things properly or what words are commonly used. A Swahili teacher really helped me here in Ottawa (if you are in Ottawa, please ask me and I can recommend a tutor). There are also a lot of communities in town that you can reach out to, I found that people are usually pretty excited that you are learning. If you are learning other languages, I hear that the Ottawa-Carleton School Board of Ottawa gives free lessons on Saturday. There are also sites where you can chat with people online from countries that speak your language, such as My Happy Plantet.

I hope this has helped. Here are a few (free!) links on Swahili that I found useful (I have repeated a few of the above):

For a Swahili dictionary, try my favorite African Languages or Kamusi Project.

For grammar, try Mwana Simba (HT Charles Ruthari).

For chatting in Swahili or any other language, try My Happy Planet or My Language Exchange.

For lessons, try the Foreign Service Institute or Kiswahili Web at UPenn.

For music, try Bongo Radio.

For books, try Children’s Library.

For videos, try KIKO (HT Charles Ruthari).

For news, try BBC in Swahili or HabariLeo.

Anyway, I am all ears on how people learn languages or different links that help you learn. Please be sure to share!