Swahili (Kiswahili) is a Bantu language, which is a subgroup of the Benue-Congo branch of the Niger-Congo language family. Swahili is the official language in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the lingua franca in the Eastern African Community. Estimates of the total number of Swahili speakers range from 60 million to over 150 million.
Many Swahili vocabulary words come from Arabic, and the first documented Swahili writings, which date back to 1711, were in Arabic. Swahili, now written using the Latin script, also features loanwords from German, Portuguese, English, Hindi, and French resulting from trade and colonization. As the most spoken African language, Swahili is a very relevant Global language to learn, and doing so gives learners the ability to experience the beauty, people, and culture of East Africa in a more meaningful way.
Free Resources to Learn Swahili
Free Learning/Studying Apps
Duolingo – iTunes – Google Play – Duolingo has become a leader in the language learning world and for good reason. It’s fast, fun, well designed, suitable for all ages, and turns learning a foreign language into a challenging and pretty addictive game.
Tinycards – iTunes – Google Play – Tinycards is a free flashcards app, from the creators of Duolingo, which uses spaced repetition and nicely designed “decks” to help you learn anything, including foreign languages. Tinycards uses gamification, like Duolingo, which makes it fun and easy to use.
Memrise – iTunes – Google Play – Memrise is a really fast, fun and free language learning app/website that is sure to get you hooked. There is a visual flashcard component which also incorporates audio from a community of native speakers. Memrise uses spaced repetition and is really effective at drilling vocabulary and phrases into your memory.
Learn Swahili Free – Google Play – This app will teach users over 9000 common Swahili words and phrases with excellent audio quality. It features quizzes, search functionality, a favorites list and it works offline.
Learn Swahili Bubble Bath Game – Google Play – This gaming app features 630 Swahili words and phrases within twelve language categories, spoken by native speakers.
Daily Swahili – Google Play – This Swahili vocabulary game is good for beginner and intermediate level learners. This app works offline, features authentic pronunciation and is totally free.
Learn Swahili – Google Play – This app features four levels: Beginner, Elementary, Intermediate, and Advanced, making it versatile for all Swahili language learners.
Swahili Word Book & Dictionary – Google Play – This app features a word book with pictures, a Swahili Dictionary, lots of Swahili vocabulary phrases, voice search, favorites lists, voice pronunciation, and it works offline.
Beginner Swahili – Google Play – This app is based on the “learn a word a day” concept and uses a simple and direct approach to teaching Swahili to beginners.
Start From Zero Swahili – Google Play – This app will boost your vocabulary skills by helping you learn thousands of the most commonly used Swahili words and phrases. It also offers quiz and flashcard functionality to test your progress.
Simply Learn Swahili – iTunes – Google Play – This app will teach you over 300 common Swahili words and phrases using images and high-quality audio recordings by a native Swahili speaker. Spaced repetition is used for better vocabulary retention. You can track your progress, take quizzes, and save words and phrases to a favorites list. The free version covers phrases and vocabulary for the following topics which are essential when visiting a Swahili speaking country: Numbers, Time and Date, Basic Conversation, Greetings, Getting Directions, Eating at Restaurants, Sightseeing, Shopping, Emergency, and Accommodations.
Learn Swahili with WordPower – iTunes – Google Play – WordPower is another app that relies heavily on the “freemium” model, but the free version will teach you 100 of the most common Swahili words and phrases.
HelloTalk – iTunes – Google Play – HelloTalk is a global language learning social network that connects you with native speakers of other languages so that you can practice your speaking and listening skills with native speakers via text/audio messages and free audio and video calls. The free version allows you to choose one native language and one target language.
Internet Polyglot – iTunes – Google Play – This free app uses lessons, games, and pictures to teach foreign languages to beginners. Although Internet Polyglot is far from a standalone language learning tool, it is a useful supplement to help you to learn and retain vocabulary.
Tandem Language Exchange – iTunes – Google Play – This app matches you with language exchange partners from all over the world, providing the opportunity to practice those essential conversation skills that are necessary to take your language skills to the next level.
Free Swahili Dictionary/Translation Apps
Google Translate – iTunes – Google Play – Google Translate offers online text translation between 103 languages by typing, offline translation for 59 languages, camera translation for 38 languages, image translation for 37 languages, conversation translation in 32 languages, and translation of handwritten characters in 93 languages. The app also has a phrasebook which allows you to save translated words and phrases for future reference in all languages.
iTranslate – iTunes – Google Play – iTranslate is a leading free translator and dictionary app that provides translations for text in over 100 languages. Other functionality includes transliteration, sharing, favorites, history, and audio in both male and female voices. Voice to voice translations and the use of offline mode is not available with the free version.
Klays-Development Swahili-English Translator – Google Play – This free app translates words and complete sentences instantly. It features a favorites list, history, voice input, and a user-friendly interface.
Kamusi Gold Swahili English Dictionary – iTunes – Google Play – This app provides offline access to the English-Swahili and Swahili-English dictionary at Kamusi.org. The app has 32,000 translation pairs and boasts features like a favorites list, search history, and text to speech functionality.
Learn Swahili with SwahiliPod101.com – This is a fun and helpful set of videos to add to your regular Swahili language learning regimen.
Easy Swahili – These YouTube videos are the work of a non-profit project which uses lighthearted street interviews as a method to teach languages. Videos typically have a topic and the host asks questions to native speakers on the street based on the theme. Each video contains subtitles in both Swahili and English.
LangMedia – LangMedia provides language learning resources, including videos, audio, study guides, grammar lessons, etc. LangMedia is run by the Five College Center for the Study of World Languages and their mission is to share examples of linguistic and cultural diversity with language learners. In the “Language by Country” section of the LangMedia website they provide videos which focus on practical aspects of everyday life (For Ex: Basic Communication, Shopping, Transportation, Culture and Social Life). The conversations often include colloquial language and all videos are accompanied by translations and transcripts. LangMedia highlights Swahili in Kenya and Swahili in Tanzania. The “CultureTalk” section of the LangMedia website features video interviews with people of different ages and backgrounds. The interviews are primarily conducted by students and translations and transcripts are provided. There is one Swahili CultureTalk Unit: CultureTalk Kenya.
Education World Swahili Lessons – YouTube – The Education World YouTube channel offers lengthy video covering lots of beginner vocabulary.
Akili and Me – YouTube – This is an educational children’s program created Ubongo Media which teaches both English and Swahili to kids. Check out the Learn Swahili – African Language for Kids playlist. There is also a YouTube channel which is entirely in Swahili where you can find a lot of great playlists like Tusome Pamoja – Vitabu vya Akili and Me which is a read-along program.
Swahili Dar Language School – YouTube – This channel is run by a language school and it offers a handful of good introductory Swahili videos.
Zipporah Mesesi’s Introduction to Everyday Swahili – YouTube – This 30-minute video provides a basic overview of Swahili.
Learn Swahili Easily – YouTube – This playlist consists of 27 briefs videos which will cover basic vocabulary words and phrases.
Learn Swahili with SwahiliPod101.com – iTunes – This is a fun and informative podcast to add to your regular Swahili language learning regimen. Every lesson is free for a period of time; each new audio and video lesson (3-5 lessons are published per week) is free to access for 3 weeks before being locked into their library, which can be accessed only with paid membership.
Complete Swahili Course by Language Transfer – YouTube – This free Swahili audio class uses an unconventional approach called language transfer, which they refer to as “the thinking method”. Rather than focusing heavily on grammar, vocabulary, and memorization, this course teaches the structure of the Swahili in an exploratory, interactive and conscious way.
Vocabulearn Swahili – Spotify – This free program on Spotify is approximately three hours long and teaches more than 2500 vocabulary words and useful phrases.
Learn Swahili with Spotify – This is a nice, comprehensive and free playlist of lessons put together by Spotify which teaches Swahili to beginners.
Learn Swahili by Complete Language Lessons – Spotify – 12 free Swahili lessons on Spotify.
Colloquial Swahili: The Complete Course for Beginners Book – This collection of audio files, each a few minutes in length, provides concise and clear Swahili language instruction for beginners. These free audio lessons were made to accompany the Colloquial Swahili: The Complete Course for Beginners textbook, which is aimed at teaching Swahili to beginners in a practical way to prepare them to effectively communicate with confidence in everyday situations.
Learn to Speak Swahili – English Swahili Phrasebook – Spotify – Learn lots of useful Swahili vocabulary words and phrases with this audio program.
Foreign Service Institute (FSI) Swahili Basic Course – The Foreign Service Institute (U.S. Department of State) originally created this and many other language learning courses to train government employees and members of the foreign service in preparation for a post abroad. This course was designed to train participants to speak Swahili naturally with native speakers while exuding confidence and using an accurate accent. 150 units are encompassed in this course which includes an e-textbook in PDF format with 586 pages and audio lessons as MP3s with 132 audio files and a running time of 14 hours and 6 minutes.
Foreign Service Institute (FSI) Swahili An Introduction to General Conversation Course – The Foreign Service Institute (U.S. Department of State) originally created this and many other language learning courses to train government employees and members of the foreign service in preparation for a post abroad. This conversation course focuses on teaching general conversation skills which are highly useful in social situations. Students will learn the basics of Swahili grammar as well as high-frequency language patterns and cliches. This course is accompanied by an e-textbook in PDF format with 165 pages in total and 7 audio files in MP3 format with a running time of 1 hour and 30 minutes.
KIKO Swahili Course – KIKO is a fantastic and in-depth multimedia Swahili course, featuring video, audio, and text which is offered at three levels: elementary, intermediate, and advanced. Each course level consists of 6 units, which are broken down into lessons with exercises, grammar tips, and cultural notes. The course was created by a team of scholars from the University of Pennsylvania, University of Georgia and Indiana University.
Introductory Swahili Course – Perfect for students preparing for a trip to East Africa, or for beginner Swahili students. this course consists of 2 levels and teaches words and phrases with audio, accompanied by supplemental exercises.
Tusikilize Kiswahili – This project is was created for intermediate level Swahili students by the University of Pennsylvania with funding from the Yale Consortium for Language Teaching and Learning. Students will acquire new vocabulary while reinforcing existing vocabulary skills and build listening and comprehension skills. The program consists of ten lessons, centered around a topic pertinent to East African life. Lessons include interactive exercises, audio, video, text, images, and games.
UPenn African Studies Center Swahili Exercise For Listening And Reading – This project was created by the Language Resource and Research Center at the University of Pennsylvania to help elementary level students to improve Swahili listening and reading skills.
Tusome Kiswahili – This is another University of Pennsylvania project which aims to teach reading, writing, listening and vocabulary skills through exercises based on the novel, Kuli, by Shafi Adam Shafi. The exercises contain excerpts from the novel accompanied by a glossary and exercises.
BBC Languages: Swahili – The BBC Swahili Language website is a treasure trove of wonderful resources and information. Swahili language facts in both English and Swahili, alphabet lessons and phrases with accompanying audio offer a nice language overview. All BBC language learning pages were “archived” a few years back due to cost-cutting measures, which means they are no longer adding new information or updating the pages. However, you should have no problem accessing the existing information.
200 Swahili Words by Boston University African Studies Center – Boston University’s 200-word project teaches top vocabulary words applicable to professional fields like business and medicine, using words, pictures, and video clips, featuring native speakers.
Swahili Classes for Foreigners Blog – Secilia Njau, a linguist and Swahili language teacher, provides Swahili lessons for foreigners using images, exercises, and quizzes via her website.
Learn to Speak Swahili by PBS – This handy phrasebook with audio was created as part of the Wonders of the African World Cultural Close-up series and teaches beginner Swahili vocabulary.
Swahili Language and Culture Phrasebook – This website provides useful Swahili words and phrases with audio.
Learn101 – This website features free beginner lessons to guide you through learning Swahili, step by step, starting with the Alphabet, moving on to grammar, vocabulary, and phrases, and finally offering simple quizzes to test your progress. These lessons are a basic introduction to the language and have images, text, and audio.
Ilanguages – This site is designed to teach Swahili with free vocabulary, phrases, grammar, and flashcards while focusing on highly used words and phrases necessary for everyday living.
Swahili Stories by BookBox – Cartoons have always been a wonderful asset to language learning, particularity for children. These animated children’s stories are great because the viewer can read along with the narration, which is shown on-screen as “Same Language Subtitles (SLS).” Each word is highlighted in time with the audio, which helps with comprehension and retention.
Omniglot – This site specializes in providing information about languages and their alphabets and writing systems.
Verbix – Online Swahili verb conjugator.
Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center Swahili Tutorial – This Language Survival Kit Module for Swahili contains basic vocabulary with audio. Both the audio files and the PDF text can be downloaded.
I Love Languages Swahili Lessons – This site provides 17 beginner Swahili lessons designed to help you improve your speaking, reading, and writing skills. Supplementary resources include vocabulary, grammar tips, and phrases.
Digital Dialects – This website makes learning vocabulary fun with interactive games.
Study Stack Flashcards – This website hosts plenty of flashcard sets for studying Swahili.
Surface Languages – This website helps you to learn words, phrases, and expressions in many different languages using audio, flashcards, language learning games, and mini-courses.
Swahili Text Tutorial – This is a simple Swahili tutorial, which is quite extensive in its coverage of introductory vocabulary, but unfortunately does feature any audio, video or pictures.
Noun Classification in Swahili – This website features the work of Dr. Ellen Contini-Morava, an anthropological linguist and professor at the University of Virginia.
Lang-8 – This free network is a nice tool to support your language learning. Native speakers are available to make corrections to your text and provide feedback. In return, you provide help to others.
HiNative – iTunes – Google Play – HiNative is an app brought to you by the creators of Lang-8 that allows you to ask questions to native speakers from around the world using your smartphone. HiNative was created to be used alongside Lang-8, and is different from Lang-8 in that it focuses on a Q&A type of learning while Lang-8 is a journal writing experience.
RhinoSpike – RhinoSpike is an interesting website that connects language learners from all over the world allowing them to exchange audio files to help improve pronunciation skills. It allows you to submit text that you would like to hear read aloud by a native speaker, and in turn, you receive the audio file. In exchange, and to speed up the process you can, in turn, provide audio files in your native language for other learners.
MyLanguageExchange.com – This online language learning community connects you with other learners so that you can practice speaking in your second language with a native speaker and vice-versa.
Italki – A community of over 2 million language learners that facilitates free language practice with native speakers. You simply exchange time teaching your native language for time learning a foreign language, making it mutually beneficial and free.
BBC News – This is the Swahili language service of the UK based BBC.
United Nations – Live and On Demand news and media in Swahili from the United Nations.
Deutsche Welle – German broadcasting company DW provides news in Swahili.
SBS Radio Swahili Program – iTunes – Spotify – SBS is an Australian broadcasting company that targets non-native English speakers and creates programming in many languages. This podcast allows you to listen to interviews, features and community stories from the SBS Radio Swahili program, including Australian and world news.
Oxford Swahili Dictionary – This online dictionary is brought to you by Oxford University Press.
Online Swahili English Dictionary – This bilingual dictionary contains over 16,000 entries and over 36,000 translation equivalents, with over 20,000 English words and phrases.
Bad.La – This “language portal” boasts 44 dictionaries for 28 languages, as well as a wealth of other language learning resources, such as helpful articles, games and quizzes, verb conjugations and phrase books.
Forvo – This crowd-sourced site is a great tool to help with pronunciation as it allows you to listen to words and phrases spoken by native speakers.
Tatoeba – Tatoeba is a large, crowdsourced database of sentences and translations. This free resource allows you to search for a word and get results showing that word in sentences with translations.
Talkify – This free, multilingual website is a very interesting and valuable resource that allows you to listen to text in foreign languages. Simply insert a URL into the search field on Talkify and it will automatically detect the language and read the text of that website aloud in a natural sounding voice.
Teach Yourself Swahili Course Book – This e-textbook by Hassan O. Ali & Ali M. Mazrui features an introductory Swahili course for beginners. More information and tons of audio clips can be found on the website.
Swahili An Active Introduction General Conversation – This book was used by the Peace Corps to introduce beginners to Swahili Grammar and language basics.
Swahili Language Handbook – This handbook is not so much an instructional manual on how to speak Swahili, but rather a study of linguistics.
Swahili Learner’s Reference Grammar – This grammar book is divided into 55 chapters, which fall under the following sections: nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, conjunctions, prepositions, sentences and miscellaneous.
Kiswahili Competency Based Manual – This book contains 24 lessons providing readers with a basic working knowledge of Swahili.
Swahili 12 Week Course Vocabulary List – This vocabulary list accompanies the Defense Language Institute’s 12-weeks course in Swahili.
Swahili Grammar and Vocabulary – This book written in 1910 by Mrs. F. Burt aimed to adapt the Berlitz method to provide learners with a working knowledge of Swahili.
Swahili Exercises – This book by Edward Steere was published in 1918 and serves as a practical guide to speaking Swahili.
What Are Your Favorite Free Swahili Language Learning Resources?
We have done a lot of research to bring you the best, free resources that the internet has to offer and we want to make sure our list is always comprehensive. Please share your favorites in the comments below.