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  5. How easy is Swahili?


How easy is Swahili?

How easy is Swahili for English speakers? or even for those having English as L2.

I have completed upto Greetings 2. And till now it seems to be ok.

March 19, 2017



The semantics of noun classification is something that I would suggest people look into, as it helps a little in guessing the class a noun belongs to.

Keeping a look-up table or mind map of how certain words behave with the different noun classes makes it a LOT easier to learn.

A helpful shortcut for verb conjugation is STROVE.

S: Subject Prefix
T: Tense Marker
R: Relative Object Infix
O: Direct Object Infix
V: Verb Root
E: Verb End

MrQuizzical touched on it with the breakdown of anapenda, which uses the basic STVE construction. Learn STROVE and conjugation becomes that much simpler.

With these tools and a bit of vocabulary under your belt, you can get a grasp of the basics fairly quickly. You can possibly get a third of the way down the tree like that.


Very helpful. I will try strove.


Hujambo. As a native English speaker, I would say Swahili is logical however you need to work a little harder to remember the vocabulary if you're not familiar with other languages. Swahili is a Bantu language, so the tiny similarities it shares with English is mostly due to the small amount of loanwords (or a consequence). It shares more loanwords with Arabic. The grammar is different, but it's the logical part of the language so if you familiarize yourself with the rules, it's not too hard. There are very few exceptions, but even they follow a logical rule. You will need to practice some sounds but Swahili is phonetic, so it's not like trying to spell French. But if you really are fascinated with Africa, especially the Eastern African cultures, it will be a rewarding language to learn!


It is very easy compared to most languages. Everything is structured. The verb conjugation follows a set of rules. The basic verb goes:

Subject + Tense Indicator + Verb Root + Verb End

Anapenda is broken into a, na, pend, a. A is he/she, na means present tense, pend means to like or to love, and a is the basic verb root end. There are only a couple verbs in Swahili that are irregular. The conjugations are pretty much the same rule.

All vocabulary belongs to noun classes. All noun classes have a designated prefix. That prefix is used with different adjectives and verbs. For example, the root -zuri means "nice; beautiful". In one noun class it is m-zuri, while in another noun class it is n-zuri.



For me, I would say that Swahili is a moderately difficult language, with some similarities, but also some challenges and differences.

First of all, a lot of the vocabulary is pretty different to English. You don't have as much similarities as you would between English and Spanish, for example. That being said, the pronunciation is pretty straightforward, and many words aren't very long, so they aren't too hard to learn.

Second of all, you have grammar rules which do not exist in English. The noun classes being one example. You may have to understand how these are used first before you are able to get a good grasp of the grammar, as they are not used in English. Again with that being said, these grammar rules aren't too difficult to grasp compared with say, Japanese or Arabic , and Swahili is not a totally different language to English.

Lastly, it would also depend on how motivated you are to learn it. There is a quote which goes something along the lines of "Anything you find fun is never hard", so if you enjoy Swahili, you will be more motivated and ready to face these obstacles and get around them.

I hope this helps!


I actually disagree with what you said about words being not that hard to learn. For me, the fact that they are all so short means they all sort of blend together. As they are all so short, you would think they'd be fairly easy to memorise, but it's quite the contrary! All of them are really short! It's not like Chinese however when the differences are easy to spot (面 (miàn) doesn't get confused with 见 (jiàn)), but for some reason, all of the vocabulary doesn't stick very easily.

Also keep in mind the grammar- whilst being fairly simple in terms of vocabulary, the grammar can be fairly complex, though nowhere near as complex as say German or Russian.


Well I suppose the vocabulary difficulty depends on the person;) I find shorter words easier to learn. I usually don't find that they blend together, but I might get some words confused between different languages once in a while.


That's funny, I'm the exact opposite! Words between languages stay nicely segregated in their own boxes and never mix. But words within those boxes are always being misfiled, misplaced, and mislabelled. Interesting to see how different people's learning experiences can be!


I'm only on level 8 so far, and not quite at the 2nd checkpoint, so my opinion is of limited reach.
The pronunciation and writing/spelling parts are pretty easy: familiar script (don't even need diacritics), no tones, no hard-to-pronounce consonants or clusters, no complicated transformation rules (like say Irish lenition); I'd say it's on par with Spanish for those features. The hard part for me so far is memorizing the vocabulary: few cognates, and I have not found good mnemonics for a lot of words yet, so I tend to have to re-learn the words lots of times. The grammar is a bit unusual (more prefixes instead of suffixes), nothing too complex yet -- but that may come in later lessons. No idea yet how deep the rabbit hole goes for idioms (cf. Chinese chengyu).


If you - like me - feel that you need an extra help to learn the language, take a look at these two:

1) Simplified Swahili, by Peter M. Wilson. Can be easily found on Amazon and is very handy, well written. It really helps to gather and organize all the learnings in Duolingo.

2) This cheat sheet a duolingo user shared a couple of days ago: http://www.swahilicheatsheet.com/

If you put some effort into it, you'll make if for sure!

Btw, I am a language passionate myself and love to take official exams just to push the limits and set some objectives. I've been looking for a Swahili official exam for a while but I just found a O-Level by Cambridge. Would be nice to have some sort of official exam, don't you guys think so?


Personally I am finding it very difficult, the vocab and the grammar have no real preexisting hooks and so they are simply not staying in my head - i don't very often say, oh, that is like that in french or german ir something. Unlike say portugese, which i don't know but can puzzle my way through reading because of how much spanish i have.

Hardest latin alphabet using language i have tried so far.


It gets harder, but I don't even know that much, only level seven.


In my opinion the hardest part of any language are the verbs (conjugation makes me frustrated), but Swahili seems ok. I mean, if you have taken Spanish you know how frustrating verbs are.


I think there are more difficult languages out there but I still find it challenging. Pronunciation is simple. I find the grammar logical but struggle with vocabulary because it's so different from the European languages I am familiar with. I also get thoroughly confused by words that sound familiar but have a different meaning from my expectation. Baba for father, dada for sister, kaka for brother, tu for we and w as the prefix for they/them and so on. However at least there are words like tiketi, baiskeli, televisheni and the like.

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