Today is my 227th day learning Swahili on Duolingo. By the time this article goes up, I will be on my 234th day – only 16 days away from my next milestone. I wish I could say that after spending this much time learning a new language on the app, I can speak fluently but that would be a lie. The truth is, after my first 100 days, my learning has plateaued.

I feel like I learned so much in the first 70 days and now, I’m not really learning anything new. Yet, I cannot speak fluently and I’m not sure what the next phase should be. Moving to Nairobi has not helped so far because almost everyone I have encountered speaks English. So, ‘learning by immersion’ – at least a variation of it – isn’t really working out well for me at the moment.

When we first arrived in Nairobi, we forced ourselves to speak Swahili to everyone we met. We’d try to have small conversations with people around us but over time, that got repetitive and boring. It also doesn’t help that our practice pool is small since we’re not interacting with many people due to the pandemic.

If I’m being honest, attaining fluency in Swahili has been more difficult than I anticipated. I was under the impression that it was fairly easy to learn. But listening to Swahili based radio stations and actually listening to people speak has been a rude awakening. Kenya’s Swahili is also full of slangs – sort of like pidgin English, so the struggle has been real.

Learning Swahili – Our Language Experiment

Last month, in an effort to push ourselves to speak faster, Mark and I decided to only communicate in Swahili during weekdays. It was difficult, to say the least, and we gave up after only 1 week. I liked the experiment though so I think we might give it another go. Mark learned to speak French fluently in Benin and this was one of the ways he did it.

Learning Swahili – Why I am Still Learning on Duolingo

Learning Swahili on Duolingo

Well, simply speaking, I love maintaining my streak. I’m aware that I will not attain fluency using Duolingo alone but I’m glad I have something to keep me on my toes. So far, I have learned (but not mastered) 2,112 words on Duolingo. It’s true that they add new words even after you have completed the skill tree. The Swahili course is also being updated periodically which is great. I’m certainly looking forward to having ‘Swahili Stories’ featured soon.

Learning Swahili – Other Things I’m Trying

In my last post about my learning journey, myafrikanah suggested a few tips and resources. One of them was the Mimic Method by Idahosa Ness. I checked out some of his videos on YouTube and a particular one I watched talked about advancing your learning process by memorizing scripted conversations. This was something I started doing earlier but didn’t feel like it was very helpful, so it was great to hear an expert endorse it.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll focus on relearning words, trying out the memorized scripted conversations and getting our language experiment back on track. I am also still using the resources I talked about in the last post to boost my learning process:

I hope I’ll have a better progress report learning Swahili by Day 300!

Tips for learning a new language for travel

Are you also learning a new language? Please share your experience and progress with me in the comment section below. Also, I’m still on the lookout for great Swahili audiobooks. Please send any recommendations you have my way.

I love to hear from you, Leave a comment here!


  1. I was in Kenya 5-6 months and people were like “I’m surprised you don’t speak more Swahili.” They were comparing me to the Somalis who pick up the language in the same duration. My argument was you not comparing apples to apples.

    A Somali who doesn’t speak English has no choice but to learn Swahili to communicate with you, but me on the other hand, every time I speak Swahili people respond back in English like that’s cute and continue speaking in english. Everyone speaks English.

    Signed my son up for swimming class, instructors speaking to kids in English. I told them Swahili a dying language and you all are killing it by speaking English even amongst each other.

    But my desire to learn the language is not deterred. Maybe this year go to Tanzania. I hear the locals don’t speak nearly as much English.

    We will see. Good luck on your journey.

    • I totally get you. When I first moved here, I was shocked that people who had lived in Nairobi for 5 years weren’t able to speak Swahili fluently. And now I’m coming up to that and still can’t. 5-6 months is a short amount of time when you live in the city and work/interact with English speakers all the time.

      Regarding people responding in English after you have attempted to converse in Swahili – this can be quite demotivating. When this happens to me (usually in Ubers), I let them know that I’m trying to learn and they are often react positively to that. I’m glad you are not deterred. I was but picking it up again this year.

      I wish you good luck in your journey as well and if you know a good Swahili teacher, where I can take lessons online or in person a few times a week, please recommend them to me. Thank you!

  2. I know it’s been two years already but I’d like to know how you are with the language now. I started learning this year.

    • Hi Ebere, sadly, I haven’t made much progress :(. I all but gave up on learning the language last year, but I’ve decided to try again this year. How’s your progress?

  3. Asante sana squash banana Amarachi (Rafiki said this in Lion King 🤣).

    I must say, you’re doing quite well settling in Nairobi especially with the language phase. I for one feel ashamed sometimes having lived in Lagos for over ten years and not understanding yoruba… chei! I got pidgin fast enough but yoruba erm no.

    I hope you get to practice more and maybe try the one week challenge again. I’ll like to see where this goes.

    • Asante Eromonsele. Lion King has a few Swahili words that I didn’t even know were actual words.

      I totally get you @ not learning Yoruba. Like Nairobi, so many people in Lagos speak English or Pidgin which makes it easy to get by without learning to speak the local language.

      I plan to continue learning and try the language experiment again. We’ll see how that goes. 🙂

  4. Well done! It is not exactly easy to be consistent with learning a new language and you have done a great job!

    I feel you on Nairobi swahili been hard to learn because of the slangs…anytime I feel like I now understand swahili to a good-enough level, I hear a conversation and I am totally lost…it helps that I live with Kenyans though…they keep telling me to be patient, that a lot of what I don’t understand is basically the equivalent of pidgin english and apparently there are different variations of this ‘swahili pidgin’ think Lagos pidgin and PH pidgin.

    What has helped me so far is watching Swahili TV programs, dramas, sitcoms, news, IG comedians and reading blogs – I find that the comedy skits and blogs has helped me pick up some of the slangs and contexts.

    This is turning into an extremely long comment – lol.

    Oh and by the way, I made a new Kenyan friend recently and she is totes cool, she is also a travel blogger like you, so you might know her…you can check her on IG at marion_mithamo.

    Maybe we should start speaking Swahili to each other…

    • Tunapaswa kusema! I also feel the same way about listening to a conversation and realizing I don’t know anything!

      I saw some Kenyan shows on Netflix recently but I guess now, I will be on the lookout for more. If it comes down to understanding the slangs, there’s no hope for me! Still managing to fully get Lagos pidgin not to talk of PH or Benin pidgin. Lol. Maybe it’s time to move to Tanzania instead!

      Thanks for suggesting Marion. Started to follow a couple more travel bloggers to get more inspiration about where to visit in Kenya. Asante sana!