Why I started self-learning Swahili

My entire childhood I was taught languages in school I did not care that much for. It was the choice between French, Spanish or German. I picked German but soon switched over to an alternative class for the remainder of the year. It would take me many years to realize why the methods they were using did not work. Now the story has changed completely and I’ve been learning 4 languages for the last 3 years, the most recent one being Swahili.

“The roof of Africa” also known as Kilimanjaro is situated on the border of Kenya and Tanzania. It was gifted to the German prince Kaiser Wilhelm II from his grandmother, Queen Victoria in 1886.

In all honesty, I thought that learning a language made no sense and could never be fun, nor a good time investment. I soon figured out I had just been learning it the wrong way. The most important thing when learning something new is to have some type of interest or motivation you can rely on once you hit the rough sea.

If you are about to set out on a new language learning journey, I advise you to pick a language you enjoy rather than one that might seem practical, will land you more jobs or is widely spoken. Sure, Chinese might seem like a “smart” language to choose since it will give you an advantage over others if you plan on doing business globally, but keep in mind it’s two to three times as hard for English speakers to learn as for example Spanish or Norwegian. This means the chance of giving up since the road seems endless is a lot higher than with languages that resemble your native tongue more.

A cheetah family enjoying a break in the shade.

Recently I just reached a comfortable level in Spanish and decided it was time to pick up something new and interesting. Perhaps languages like French, Italian and Portuguese would be the obvious picks due to the number of cognates and similar patterns they hold? But, excluding Spanish, I never had any interest in any other Romance language.

After some thinking, I remembered my time in Tanzania and Kenya. How I always loved the sound of their language. The letters worked like salsa partners, one vocal, one syllable, one vocal, one syllable. The result is magnificent. It just feels comfortable to spit words out your mouth.

But back then I was still not on the right foot with languages and just assumed it was as hard as Arabic, if not worse. I did some research and soon realized the language of Swahili, or Kiswahili as they call it was far easier than most other ones I had come across. Very basic sentence structure as well as the present tense, past tense and future tense, made me question languages like Spanish and English.

A busy street corner in the capital of Kenya, Nairobi.

With playful sounds like “lala” (sleep), “pole pole” (slowly), and “mimi” (I) I knew this would be a fun language to learn. In fact, I bet some of you already know a lot of Swahili words after watching the lion king. For example “rafiki” (friend), “simba” (lion), or perhaps “pumba” (stupid)?

I started self-learning Swahili online using various resources and reaching out to native speakers so I could practice. Many of them do not speak English very well so it allowed me to do an exchange and on top of that, it forced me to immerse into the language even more.

It has been a couple of weeks now, and even though my Swahili is still at the level of a toddler, I enjoy the feeling of the words rolling off my tongue. And even when the going gets tough I feel enjoyment for the language which for me is the most important thing when learning something new.

Recently I have used the amazing application italki.com to find tutors to strengthen my understanding and pronunciation. Some classes are as cheap as $5 for 90-minute lessons so if you’re looking into learning a new language, but feel like you need a helping hand, I could not recommend this enough!

So, if you are someone who felt language classes in high school were useless and a waste of time. Perhaps a private tutor who can put his entire focus on just you or finding a language you enjoy learning could change your mentality?

Let me know about your experiences learning new languages!

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