Categories Header



Travel Tuesday: Tips for Learning Basic Kiswahili Words and Phrases for a Trip to Kenya

Whenever we travel to a foreign country where English is not the primary language, the hubs and I always try and learn some key phrases in the country's primary language.  This is not only important in order to get around, but it is also a show of respect for the country you are visiting.  We don't want to be seen as these entitled Americans who expect everyone in the world to speak our language and adhere to our western ways... we travel to experience other cultures, and that often means stepping out of our comfort zone to try and experience the cultures the way they are. 
If you have been following our #journeytothejourney, you have seen the various ways our family is preparing for our safari trip to Kenya (arranged by the fabulous Explorateur Journeys).  One of the things we are most excited about with this being our kids' first big international journey is the fact that the culture in Kenya is so much different than what our boys are used to in their day-to-day American lives.  One way we are trying to prepare them for how different it will be is to explain to them that other languages are spoken in other countries, and how important it will be for them to know at last some basic conversational phrases in Kiswahili. 
Our family has been practicing basically Kiswahili words and phrases a little bit everyday, in one form or another
We have been practicing as a family in advance of our trip.  We have learned several phrases so far.  Here is how the boys are doing with a few common phrases (and forgive S's wild hair - that curly mane cannot be tamed):

How are we learning, and how are we making it fun for the kids?  Here are our tips for learning basic Kiswahili words and phrases:

  • Get a good pocket guide to take with you.  We love the Lonely Planet books - they are pocket-sized and are travel-focused so you don't get overwhelmed trying to find things while on-the-go.  For this trip, we picked up the Lonely Planet Swahili Phrasebook and Dictionary from Amazon (disclosure: this is an affiliate link, which means I receive commission from Amazon if you make a purchase using the link).
  • Watch YouTube videos.  This is such a good way to learn pieces of other languages, since you can hear the pronunciation and intonation.  One thing I have noticed with Kiswahili in particular is that it's not difficult to pronounce (the rules for vowels are much more simple than in English).  However, the way different syllables within words, and words within sentences are accentuated is different than I would expect by reading it alone.  We have found a great series of YouTube videos by SwahiliPod101 that has about eight different three-minute lessons.  The family has been watching at least a few of them nightly and practicing along to reinforce our learning through repetition.  Our favorite lessons are Self Introductions, Greetings, Kenyan Manners, Making Apologies, and Do You Speak English.
  • Buy Swahili children's books.  Now, you would think that we did this just for the kids, but actually, we did this purposefully for our whole family to learn.  Of course we knew that a children's book would be engaging for the kids, so that was a bonus way to make this fun for them.  Though we also figured that these books generally teach you very foundational words and phrases in an easy-to-digest way.  Seeing as how we all learned our native language as babies and children, often with the help of vocabulary books, why not consider starting this way for learning a new language as an adult too?  A few good ones that we found are Jambo Means Hello: Swahili Alphabet Book and Moja Means One: Swahili Counting Book from Amazon (disclosure: these are affiliate links, which means I receive commission from Amazon if you make a purchase using the links).  They also teach you a bit about East African culture as well, which is great for all of us.
  • Practice together, as much as possible.  Anyone who's ever tried to learn another language (either partially or completely) knows that it is impossible to truly learn the language, or retain what you've learned, without conversational practice.  Our family still has a ways to go here, but for now we are practicing by incorporating "thank you" ("asante" or "asante sana") and "you're welcome" ("karibu" or "kamwe"), "hello" ("habari" or "shikamoo"), "good bye" ("kwaheri" or "tuonane tena"), and "sorry" ("samahani" or "niwie radhi") into our everyday family conversation.  We are also trying to incorporate some numbers. 

I tell you, I glowed with pride when my youngest at a restaurant recently, unprompted, told the server "Asanta sana!  That's Swahili.  We are going to Kenya."  Insert heart-eyes emoji. 

Reading fun while also learning some foundational words in Kiswahili

What tips do you have for learning parts of a new language?  Have you found any tips that are especially helpful for children?


Brenda G. said...

As a language teacher, I believe you are approaching the learning process the right way. You are integrating every family member in order to be able to learn a few phrases. Sometimes I recommend my adults students to buy children books. Why? because learning a new language is basically the same process as learning our first words from the scratch and hey! children books always have images and are appealing for basic learners doesn't matter the age!

I definitely congratulate you for your process and for teaching your children that, to experience a new culture, language is definitely a fundamental part of it!

ramonaruby said...

Brenda, that is so nice to hear! I appreciate your feedback!

Robert Gris said...

Many people want to know how to learn Spanish or in fact the best way to do so; the easy answer is that it depends on the person who is learning. Every person learns in a different way; some are more methodical in their approach and need structured organized learning periods and course material Click here

Mary Walker said...

Along these lines, in the wake of spending numerous hours on the web finally We have revealed a person that unquestionably knows what they are talking about an abundance of thanks an extraordinary arrangement magnificent post. Adventure Tour Guide

Jermain Am said...

I congratulate you for your process and for this initiative of teaching your children that, to experience a new culture, language is definitely a fundamental part of it! Travel Merchants

Sam Carrillo said...

I am very enjoyed for this blog. Its an informative topic. It help me very much to solve some problems. Its opportunity are so fantastic and working style so speedy. I think it may be help all of you. Thanks. Travelling and Tourism