Learning a new language has always been one of my life goals. I chose French to be the second language I wanted to be fluent in and there were several reasons why. First, I took a French class in secondary school and since it was an easy class for me, I thought I’d pick up the language easily.

Secondly, French is one of the world’s most spoken languages and I believed that learning it would give me more life and career opportunities. And lastly, there were many available free resources to help me continue learning. I had no excuse to stop.

I kept in touch with the language for a few years, dabbling into lessons here and there but I never became fluent. Learning a new language without fully immersing myself was proving extremely difficult. So when the opportunity to move to a new country presented itself, I decided to try learning the country’s national language, Swahili.

In the last 100 days, I committed myself to learn this African language. Having no prior knowledge, save for a few words from the Lion King, I turned to Duolingo, a language learning app for guidance.

My Learning Goals for the First 100 Days…

Tips for Learning a new language for travel

When I downloaded Duolingo three years ago to learn French, I had very unrealistic expectations about how fast I wanted to progress from a novice to a fluent speaker. I deleted the app in frustration months after. This time, I approached my lessons with realistic and specific goals for my first few months.

My first goal was to be able to have a basic conversation in Swahili easily. I wanted to learn to introduce myself properly, ask for directions and understand everyday expressions. While researching effective ways to learn a new language, I came across resources that advised learners to focus on the most commonly spoken words of a new language.

The average number of words to go from Novice to Pre-Intermediate seems to be 1,500 words. So my second goal was to master 1,500 (essential) words by my 100th day.

100 Days on Duolingo – Was it Worth it?

Tips for learning a new language for travel

By day 70, I had completed the Swahili Skill Tree on the Duolingo app. In addition to this, according to the Duolingo word count, I had learnt over 2,000 words! 100 days ago, I knew roughly 5 Swahili words. Now, I know over 2,000 words! I can tell time and dates, count to a thousand, introduce myself properly and name every single item in my home. I can ask for directions, use present, past and future tenses correctly and a lot more!

Recently, I decided to combine my Duolingo classes with resources on YouTube. I stumbled on the Fluentin3Months blog and one of the resources he recommended for learning Swahili on Youtube was this Swahili Fairy Tales Channel.

For every sentence a character spoke, I was only able to pick up two or three words. While I am happy with the progress I have made so far, I realize there is still so much more to learn. Nevertheless, I would say that the time I spent learning a new language on the Duolingo app was absolutely worth it.

Learning Swahili on Duolingo (A Mini-Review)…

Swahili Word Learned on Duolingo
My word count on Duolingo as at Day #77

I thought the Swahili course content on Duolingo was well planned out. The course tree has 65 skills, containing about 975 lessons. After a few of these lessons, I felt very confident that I would be able to attain my first goal within a short period of time. I also thought that the contributors did a good job in structuring the course in a way that gets you speaking from Day one. Don’t get carried away though, you’ll need more than a language learning app to get you from Novice to Fluent speaker!

The Swahili Course on Duolingo is also fairly new, so it is missing a few features that some of the top courses have. For example, Duolingo has a feature called ‘Stories’ and when you’re not using them to farm for XPs, they’re a great resource for learning. At the moment, this feature is not available for the Swahili Course. I imagine that it would be sometime in the future and I am looking forward to that.

There are also a few words without hints or audio on the app, I am sure the contributors are working towards fixing that and all other minor erros reported by users.

What Next After Day 100?

100 days streak Duolingo Swahili

I will continue to keep up with the Swahili Language Course on Duolingo. I’ve read on some of the forums that Duo (the Duolingo Owl) introduces new words even after you have completed the tree. So, I am excited to continue learning as many words as I can.

I also plan to revisit old lessons with more practice and patience. At some point during my learning process, I became obsessed with Leadership Boards. I raced through Swahili (and French) lessons in order to claim the first position in the weekly competitions. Needless to say, that was a bad idea. When it comes to learning a new language, I find that slow learning works best for me.

In addition, I discovered that the Duolingo website has a few features not available on the app. I plan to explore these features more as I take lessons in the future.

Finally, I’m hoping to maintain my streak until the end of the year (at least). The next milestone I am looking forward to is Day 250. By this time, I want to move from the Pre-Intermediate Level to the Intermediate Level of speaking Swahili. This means that I should be able to understand and contribute to discussions around work, school, travel, leisure, and personal interests.

Other Learning Resources…

I know that immersion is the best way to learn a new language but where that option is not readily available, you have to complement your studies with other resources such as podcasts, audiobooks and video lessons. No single language learning app can help you learn a language fluently. So in addition to using Duolingo, here are some of the other resources I am using to learn Swahili.

I am so excited at the prospect of actually learning a new language. But even more than learning to speak Swahili, I’m harbouring dreams of working with Duolingo to contribute to the Swahili Course content and eventually get more African languages on the app.

Do you use Duolingo or any other language learning app? Which language(s) are you learning and what has your experience been like so far? Also, if you know any good Swahili audiobooks, please send them my way.

8 Comments

  1. Avatar

    This is an absolutely useful idea! Swahili is on my wishlist, too. I’d bookmark this post to revisit later for these useful links. Thank you!

    In fact, I did start with Duolingo and some YouTube lessons (French with Vincent) for French about 3 years ago. For a beginner, they were useful. Although, it was immersion en France that helped me most to get to Intermediate level. Yet, I don’t think immersion the only way. Exposure, too, can help a lot! I know people who learn a different language (Korean, Japanese, Chinese, for example) while in their home countries watching these movies and just consuming content regularly in their target language.

    Check out The Mimic Method by Idahosa Ness and How To Acquire Any Language NOT Learn It by Poly-Glot-A-Lot on YouTube. These two ideas revolutionalized my thinking on language learning. I’m applying them to learning Portuguese. Very very effective, I must say. If I’d known 3 years ago what I know now, I’d have done French differently.

    O well, I hope you get to work with Duolingo. Honestly, more African languages need to be featured there.

    All the best in your language learning journey, Amarachi!

  2. Avatar

    Really sorry for my long comment. πŸ™ˆ Hehe.

    I actually did start learning Swahili when I spent 1 month in Tanzania (TZ). I fell in love with the language.

    There’s something you might need to take note of on your Swahili journey. Y’see, among the Swahilophones (is this even a thing?), TZ’s Swahili is polished (in the same way we have British Standard English), while that spoken in Kenya (KE), for example, is more watered down and slangy. My kenyan Friends admit this. Yet, they understand each other.

    That said, though, songs help you acquire a language quickly, too. Examples of artistes are Lokua Kanza, Diamond Platinumz, Sauti Sol.

    (Lokua Kanza sings mostly in Lingala, but he has some Swahili songs, too. E.g Famille.)

    All the best!

    • Avatar

      Oh please, do not apologize for long comments. I love them! And wow, so many insights!

      I’m particularly motivated by what you said about immersion not being the only way to learn a new language. After 100 days, I feel like I have plateaued in my learning process. It feels like I know nothing but yet, know a lot. I will check out both channels on YouTube. I am already excited thinking about the next 100 days, knowing this now.

      Now, about Kenya Swahili and Tanzania, a few people have mentioned this to me. Duolingo is based on TZ’s Swahili but Pimsleur’s lessons are based on KE’s. I have already started noting the differences, especially when I began listening to Swahili radio stations online. It’s good to know that they understand each other though, at least I can keep learning with the materials I have.

      Thank you for the song recommendations. I will be sure to check them out and incorporate them into my learning! Asante Sana, rafiki wangu!

  3. Avatar

    I am currently learning French on Duolingo. I have been using the app for five months, although some days, I am barely trying to maintain my streak, and a few other good days/weeks, I am excited about learning and making fewer mistakes.

    I can identify with feeling like you know a lot, yet so little. I am far from completing my tree, even though I have made some progress (I have passed the second checkpoint and I am headed towards the third). I also try not to get overtaken with leading my board and remembering little of what I have learnt. Combining that with advancing in the league board isn’t always easy for me. I recently shared a few ways to stay motivated learning with the app as I see that it is a lot of persons’ challenge.

    Your post provides a balanced review of learning with the app – it is not completely useless although it is limited. I joined a community of persons who are learning French on Duolingo and the resources they share and the camaraderie has been helpful. I look forward to finding more resources to complement my learning on the app as learning a new language is top on my list of skills to acquire.

    • Avatar

      Thanks, Annie. I read about your experience on your blog. Even left a comment (twice, maybe it got caught in spam). You’re right. Learning a new language is hard and we need all the motivation we can get. One of the things I did was opt out of the Leagues. You can do that by making your profile private. It will keep your position, in case you ever plan to opt in again.

      The learning group is such a good idea. Cheers to making more progress with learning!

  4. Avatar
    Fisayo the amazing

    Swahili has won such a sweet spot in my heart!!! And it’s so nice to hear you’re picking it up too…been living with Kenyans for the last two years (who are absolute sweethearts by the way) I now watch Maisha Magic on a regular, read Kenyan blogs … which are written in a mix of English and Swahili, I follow Kenyan and Tanzanian comedians on IG and can actually now relate to the context of the jokes…I can understand when Kenyan Swahili is been spoken (not Tanzanian one biko, that one is more complex), I feel Nairobi Swahili is like the pidgin version of Swahili πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚, I digress …but beyond the language , I have fallen in love with East Africa…because of a family who opened their hearts and lives to me!! Cheers to the ones who love us without any reason to…lala salama

    • Avatar

      Please send me a link to where to watch Maisha Magic! Is it a TV show or what? I really hope my TZ Swahili classes will translate well in Kenya. It’s wonderful to read about your love for East Africa and Kenyan people. I hope I enjoy my time there as well!

I love to hear from you!