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Swahii

Practical Conversational Swahili for Kenya

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When I first arrived in Nairobi, it seemed like so many foreigners here were taking Swahili classes, but no one used it, no one was becoming fluent, and everyone felt guilty about it.
But it's no surprise that it's so difficult to learn, when virtually all Swahili courses given in Nairobi teach a standardized form of the language—replete with Tanzanian formalities—that people in Nairobi don't even use. Students are sent around speaking in a stiff, proper form of the language that is not what Kenyans speak to each other.

The point of Swahii is to put aside normative judgments about "bad Nairobi Swahili" and just teach it as a colloquial, practical form of the language. Those interested in studying Swahili literature should learn "the right way," but for most students, the goal isn't to write a dissertation—it's to get to know people and break down the language barrier.
To do that, you need to learn to speak to people like they do to one another.

When I first arrived to Kenya from Tanzania, people marveled at how "cute" and "sanifu" my Swahili was. Over time, with trial and error (mostly being laughed at for saying certain things), I documented the grammatical differences between standardized and Nairobi Swahili. People in Nairobi didn't keep track of ngeli za Kiswahili, so why should Swahili students in Nairobi?


This course is broken up into thirty lessons, which altogether will give you what you need to know to be conversationally fluent in Nairobi Swahili. Once you've purchased the course, you can access all of the material forever, which means being able to learn at your own pace, from wherever you are in the world. If you're only in Kenya for just a short time, you can sign up for a monthly subscription.
The course is also designed to work with as many learning styles as possible. With every new grammatical concept comes a short video that explains it—also so you can hear how things are pronounced. There is also a detailed pdf for each lesson, which you can download and print. Included on these documents are plenty of exercises (and their answers). There is also a Memrise course that corresponds to the vocabulary we introduce in every lesson, so you have flashcards you can access from your phone or computer anywhere. Finally, there are some audio-only exercises too to help with comprehension, and where we also go over some nuances in the way people speak.


Frequently Asked Questions


Why teach Nairobi Swahili?
The idea for creating a curriculum on Nairobi Swahili started with the fact that the majority of foreigners find it very, very difficult to learn Swahili in Nairobi... while at the same time, Nairobi Swahili is actually grammatically simpler than standardized Tanzanian Swahili. For the number of foreigners who try to learn, it shouldn't be as rare as it is to find one who speaks fluently. But it's no surprise that it's so difficult, when virtually all Swahili courses given in Nairobi teach a standardized form of the language—replete with irrelevant formalities—that people in Nairobi don't even use. Students are sent around speaking in a stiff, proper form of the language that is not even what Nairobians (and, to a certain extent, Kenyans in general) speak to each other. The point of Swahii is to put aside normative judgments about "bad Nairobi Swahili" and just teach it as a colloquial, practical form of Swahili. Those interested in studying Swahili literature should learn "the right way," but for most foreigners in Nairobi, the goal is to get to know people and break down the language barrier. To do that, you need to learn a language the way that the people you speak to do.
What resources are included in this course?
We try to be inclusive of all learning styles to make sure that something works for everyone. Each lesson has between 8 to 20 minutes of videos that go through the grammar, so you can see how things work and hear the pronunciation of words. There is also a "textbook" as a downloadable PDF for each lesson, which includes a whole lot of exercises (with answers, of course, so you can check), for those visual learners. And finally there is a Memrise course (open to the public) which has online flash cards that correspond to each lesson so you can continue to memorize vocabulary even when you're on the go.
How long do I have access to the course?
How about forever? If you make a one-time purchase of the entire course, you have unlimited access to it for as long as you like, plus you can use it on any devices you own so you can continue learning at your own pace wherever you are. If you purchase a monthly subscription, you will have access to the course for as long as your subscription is active and paid for.
When does the course start and finish?
The course starts now and never ends! It is a completely self-paced online course, you decide when you start and when you finish.
How long does the course usually take to finish?
This is totally up to you. The course is designed to fit over a variety of schedules and learning paces. There are 30 lessons, each with 8 to 20 minutes of video, plus plenty of exercises with answers. So if you do one a week, you could clear the whole course in 7-8 months. If you are super intense or a really fast language learner, you could make it through the course in as little as 2-3 months.
What if I am unhappy with the course?
We want to make sure you are satisfied with this course. If for whatever reason you are not happy with your purchase, contact us in the first 30 days and we will give you a full refund. The monthly subscription can be ended at any time.
Should I use Swahii if I am living and working in Tanzania or elsewhere on the East African Coast?
If you are going to be in an area where people speak and write in standardized Swahili (Kiswahili sanifu), there are a wealth of other resources, whether books or courses, that will suit you better. Swahii is all about finding the most direct, easy-to-understand way to learn Swahili for the place you're in, so if that place is Tanzania, it makes more sense to learn it directly the way that people speak it there. That being said, some people have found the way that grammar is taught in this course helpful as a foundation, even if they will move towards standardized Swahili eventually. We try to keep students aware of the differences between Nairobi Swahili and standardized/traditional Swahili all throughout the course, but it's not perfect since we don't want to overwhelm students with unnecessary information. We want to make it easy for you to do you. If you find within the first 30 days that this course is really not helpful for where you will be speaking Swahili (no questions asked), you can still get a full refund!
Why should I trust an instructor who is not East African?
In my personal experience, I have found that language teachers who have had to learn that language themselves (as in it is not their native language) tend to be able to explain grammar in a way that makes more sense than native speakers would. I would find it much more difficult to have to explain English, my native language, not only because of all the exceptions, but because I have always been able to take them for granted since I never really had to learn why things were the way they were. This curriculum has gone through a few iterations with over a dozen different students, so it has been designed and refined to best explain concepts about Swahili/Bantu grammar in a way that makes the most sense to English-speakers.

Class Curriculum



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