Swahili: Easy to learn?

Discussion in 'Other Languages' started by DieuEtMonDroit, Feb 28, 2009.

  1. DieuEtMonDroit

    DieuEtMonDroit Senior Member

    Uppsala, Sweden
    I've been meaning to pick up yet another language, and since I've never studied an African language and I'm thinking of going to Kenya on vacation, I would like to start learning Swahili.

    Even though this might be a very broad question, I wonder if someone here might provide some insight in how difficult Swahili is to learn, compared to learning e.g. English, German or French...

    Thank you!
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 28, 2009
  2. palomnik Senior Member

    Extremely easy to learn. Very easy to pronounce, and the grammar is much simpler than other African languages, including the other Bantu languages around it. You can learn it well enough in a month to deal with a lot of situations. I lived in Nairobi for a couple of years back in the 1980's and I learned it quite well in no time flat.

    If you stay in Nairobi or in the game parks, of course, you won't need it much. But if you head out into the villages, you might find that even Swahili is not that commonly spoken!
  3. Joannes Senior Member

    Belgian Dutch
    Yes, it's the kind of language that you will be able to use relatively quickly in many situations regardless of your linguistic background. Useful African language to learn, go for it!
  4. Loopin Member

    Cape Town
    English - South Africa
    Bantu languages are painfully difficult, from my experience. I live in South Africa and have studied Xhosa (an nguni / southern Bantu language) for more than 4 years. I'm nowhere near fluent, after a year of studying a Romance language (French) and a Germanic language (German) they're nearly at par with my xhosa!
  5. toc Member

    English - UK
    Doesn't some expert usually pop up now and give the common senseless lecture about there not being such things as easier-to-learn languages...
  6. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    I think the point that people usually make is that the difficulty of a language is not an absolute. It depends on each person's linguistic background.
  7. palomnik Senior Member

    I take your point, Loopin, and it's true that other East African Bantu languages like Kikuyu, Kikamba or Luganda can be incredibly difficult to learn.

    But Swahili started out its life some 8-900 years ago as a creole between the coastal Bantu languages and Arabic. While I've never studied the historical development of the language, my assumption has been that this had an overall effect of simplifying the phonology, losing tonal structure (Kikuyu, for one, has tones) and adopting a simple penultimate accent on almost all words in the language, and also losing all diphthongs. The phonetics of Swahili are about as simple as Japanese.

    The grammar has simplified too, losing all but about five noun classes. The verb forms are largely regular for all verbs.

    Another factor involved is that the vast majority of Swahili speakers speak it as a second language. Except for the Swahili people along the coast most East Africans speak their tribal language as their native language. This has tended to simplify the commoner expressions, and there is a well-known gulf between what is considered "proper" Swahili, suppsedly based on what Swahili people in Zanzibar (and to a lesser extent Mombasa) speak and what you will generally hear on the street in Nairobi.

    I could give some examples but I'm getting off topic. Not everybody knows that Swahili has an extensive medieval literature, mostly in poetry and written in the Arabic alphabet. It's an interesting language to learn.

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