Published on June 17th, 2020

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.

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