13 Best And Worst Online Swahili Courses For 2021

  • Johann Brennan
    Written byJohann Brennan
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13 Best And Worst Online Swahili Courses For 2021

Looking for the best online Swahili course to learn the language?

Swahili is rising in popularity, as more and more course options are being released.

In addition to tourism and foreign language careers, the benefits of speaking Swahili cannot be overstated.

Today I’m going to give you my rundown of the best (and worst) online Swahili courses.

Below you’ll find pros and cons for each Swahili course, pricing and a summary. Where applicable, I’ll link to a review of the course.

IMPORTANT: Some of the items listed below are probably only loosely defined as “courses” for Swahili. The reason I’ve included them is that they’re popular enough Swahili tools and therefore should be included.

DISCLAIMER: The comments below are personal opinions and some affiliate links are used.

The best Swahili courses online (most popular Swahili resources)

1. SwahiliPod101

SwahiliPod101

Cost: Starts as low as $4 a month.

Summary: SwahiliPod101 is a brilliant online resource for learning Swahili (especially listening comprehension). If you’re into podcast learning especially, this might be the course for you.

SwahiliPod101 uses audio lessons similar to podcasts. Lessons are suitable for beginners through more advanced levels. The instruction not only includes listening skills but also incorporates essential vocabulary and grammar with loads of other useful features.

What I like:

  • Large and always expanding variety of Swahili lesson material
  • Clean lesson interface and downloadable content

What I don’t like:

  • Content choices are sparse beyond the beginner level
  • Too much English banter
  • While the lesson interface is nice, the rest of the site is overwhelming and confusing to navigate

UNIQUE OFFER: Use the code MEZZOGUILD to save 25% on any of their Swahili course options.


2. Pimsleur Swahili

Pimsleur Swahili

Cost: $14.95 a month subscription (or $119.95 per level)

Summary: Pimsleur’s a household name for learning Swahili using spaced repetition recall. The lessons focus on practical vocabulary and expressions one might need in various scenarios. This includes greetings, common phrases, and vocabulary you might need when talking to native speakers.

In terms of just how much you get out of it, I’d say Pimsleur is a good entry point for Swahili but it will only familiarize you with the basics. Treat its Swahili course as a foundational course and then move on to something more comprehensive.

Pimsleur does not offer any video or written content. It’s audio only.

Read this Pimsleur review.

What I like:

  • Pimsleur was based on solid research in second language acquisition.
  • Extremely effective method despite its age.
  • Heavy repetition of Swahili language samples.

What I don’t like:

  • Outdated scenario examples.
  • Too much English.

3. Memrise

Memrise Swahili

Cost: Free

Summary: Memrise moved its free “community” courses to a site called Memrise a while back, while it continues to run a premium subscription on the original Memrise site.

From what I see, Memrise is identical to what Memrise use to offer.

Memrise are 100% free community-added courses (Swahili and others) in the form of a gamified flashcard deck. You select a language or dialect, then go through a flashcard game of “watering plants”. It’s highly addictive and actually quite effective.

Some courses are excellent but not all courses are good. Look for ones that include audio and ones that teach phrases rather than single words.

See my video on downloading Memrise to Anki.

What I like:

  • It’s an effective memorization tool for phrases and words.
  • The addictive nature of the game gets you coming back often to continue learning.
  • It’s all free.
  • There are loads of community-driven courses to choose from.

What I don’t like:

  • As it’s community-driven, you can’t always guarantee quality.

4. italki

italki

Cost: Prices vary widely

Summary: italki connects learners with tutors, teachers and conversation partners. As with similar services, it doesn’t a curriculum or content to instructors - just facilitates.

The good thing about italki is their vetted onboarding process for teachers which ensures quality. italki has earned its amazing reputation.

Teachers succeed on italki through client feedback, meaning subpar teachers simply will not cut it on the platform.

What I like:

  • Facilitates great connections with expert teachers.

What I don’t like:

  • No set curriculum means you could be paired with an inexperienced new teacher not yet weeded out by italki’s review system.

5. Transparent Language

Transparent Language Swahili

Cost: Pricing varies

Summary: Transparent is one of the most surprising online Swahili courses I’ve tried.

The system and interface are antiquated and slow which is a real drawback, but if you can look past it, Transparent Language provides a real depth of Swahili course content.

The voice recognition comparison is non-existent in Transparent Language. It relies on recording on your voice and showing you your sound wave to compare with the native speaker’s sound wave.

No inbuilt system to automatically compare sounds.

The Transparent Language course has a “Produce it. Say it.” section that literally asks you “Were you right?”.

In other words, no way to automatically detect whether you were correct or not – it relies on your own determination. This is incredibly outdated.

Overall, if you can look past the outdated design and deficient voice recording aspect, Transparent Language Swahili is an outstanding course option.

What I like:

  • Swahili dialogue is 100% natural speed
  • Extensive coverage and depth of content

What I don’t like:

  • Outdated and slow interface that’s a pain to navigate
  • Pronunciation section has no inbuilt voice recognition to compare to native dialogue

6. uTalk

uTalk Swahili

Cost: $4.99 monthly per language, $9.99 for all 140 languages, $99.99 for a lifetime subscription

Summary: uTalk is essentially a fancy flashcard app, an alternative to Memrise and a great way to learn words and phrases in hundreds of different languages.

There are thousands of potential language pair combinations and tons of native speaker audio recordings with picture associations.

What I like:

  • Authentic native speaker audio
  • Hundreds of available languages
  • Thousands of potential language combinations
  • Easily affordable

What I don’t like:

  • Sloppy UI
  • Games are mediocre
  • Broad approach that isn’t tailored for specific languages

7. Mango Languages

Mango Swahili

Cost: $7.99 a month

Summary: Mango Languages has implemented what I believe to be one of the best ‘chunking’ approaches in its course style I’ve ever seen (very close to my own successful method). It does this by avoiding grammar Swahili explanations and instead highlighting lexical chunks in colors to help you learn language patterns.

One of the best features I’ve seen in a language product. Period.

The only problem with Mango is that it’s quite lightweight on its course depth. If they developed an advanced course for Swahili, I’d be a raging fan.

What I like:

  • Beautifully designed Swahili course
  • Focuses on lexical chunks (color coded) rather than rules which is how I prefer to learn

What I don’t like:

  • Minimal grammar focus
  • Lack of content depth for higher-level learners

8. Glossika Swahili

Glossika Swahili

Cost: $30 a month.

Summary: I’m a huge fan of the Glossika series.

Glossika is one of the most unique language products available and, in my opinion, one of the very few that uses a natural, research-grounded method. In fact, the Glossika method aligns very closely with how I personally learned Swahili and I’ve seen tremendous success doing it.

Glossika focuses on high repetition of lexical chunks – in other words, listening over and over to a sequence of sentences at natural speed and repeating them.

It is hands down the most effective trainer for Swahili listening comprehension and requires little else but frequent, daily listening/repeating to audio.

See this massive Glossika review and interview I put together.

What I like:

  • One of the most truly unique and effective methods available, in my opinion.
  • I personally had tremendous success using Glossika for Swahili (and Russian).
  • Focuses on heavy repetition of natural language chunks.

What I don’t like:

  • Difficult concept to grasp for new learners of Swahili.
  • Natural approach requiring heavy repetition may feel tedious to some people.
  • Slightly higher priced monthly subscription.

9. Assimil (Le swahili)

Assimil Swahili

Cost: Prices vary widely

Summary: The Assimil method is old and outdated, and its ‘two wave’ approach has little value in light of current Second Language Acquisition trends (although its focus on patterns rather than grammar drills is ahead of its time). The Assimil dialogues are extremely useful, however.

What I like:

  • High quality dialogues
  • Perfectly arranged audio library
  • Very comprehensive

What I don’t like:

  • Only available in French
  • Translation-based
  • Doesn’t appear to be backed by research or case studies
  • Unusual and bizarre situational topics

10. Duolingo Swahili

Duolingo Swahili

Cost: Free.

Summary: Duolingo has become a staple for many language learners – a completely free household name to rival established companies like Babbel and Rosetta Stone.

I’ve personally have never liked Duolingo and I think it’s an overrated, infantile game that offers little value other than being an addictive distraction and procrastination from real learning. People go through entire courses on the Duolingo platform and come away with little more than a cartoon trophy.

Their Swahili course might serve you well to get you acquainted but there are better ways to spend your study time in my opinion.

Check out my comparison of Duolingo and Babbel.

What I like:

  • Free to use.
  • Fun downtime activity in between real study periods.
  • Appealing to young people and those experimenting with Swahili before committing to a paid resource.

What I don’t like:

  • Tedious, repetitive point and click on easily predictable answers.
  • Addictive gamification that feels productive but is, in fact, time-wasting.

11. Mondly Swahili

Mondly Swahili

Cost: Starts at $9.99/month.

Summary: Mondly offers courses for loads of different languages including Swahili and is similar in style to Duolingo and Babbel. There are even hints of Rosetta Stone in its delivery.

It’s a beautifully-designed web app and a pleasure to navigate the Swahili course content.

Some of the language courses aren’t that great (e.g. Arabic) but Swahili and others are done fairly well.

What I like:

  • Beautifully designed app and web interface makes it a pleasure to use
  • Clear and easy progression through the Swahili lessons
  • Inexpensive

What I don’t like:

  • Linear learning path
  • Fairly repetitive and monotonous

See this Mondly review to learn more.


12. Living Language Swahili

Living Language Swahili

Cost: Starts from $25

Summary: I was never a fan of Living Language when I reviewed it several years ago. I’m including it on this list because it is one of the big names and most popular courses for Swahili (plus I get asked about it from time to time).

I found Living Language to be bland, incorrectly levelled and just a very uninspiring grammar-heavy course.

What I like:

  • Very thorough in its grammar explanations

What I don’t like:

  • Incorrect levelling – especially for higher levels
  • Trashing of competitors in its marketing is extremely off-putting

13. FSI Swahili

FSI Swahili

Cost: Free

Summary: FSI (Foreign Service Institute) is a government entity that trains diplomats and government officials in foreign languages. It offers Swahili along with many other languages online for free (including audio recordings).

The problem with the FSI material is that it’s literally been around for almost a century.

It’s ancient.

So although you can download their comprehensive Swahili course for free with audio, be aware that the material is literally photocopied booklets that were typed up on typewriters making it almost illegible.

If you’re patient, there’s some good value in the FSI courses but it’s so dated that I personally wouldn’t bother.

What I like:

  • Being a US government entity that trains diplomats, FSI naturally has incredible Swahili course depth.
  • Free and easy to download lesson + audio on many sites (the link below is the easiest to access).

What I don’t like:

  • Archaic course.
  • PDF material is still just a photocopy of the original, typewritten paper so it’s dreadful to read.

Summary: Best online Swahili courses

This pretty much sums up every online Swahili course option currently available (if I missed one, let me know!).

In addition to a Swahili course, make sure you’re getting regular Swahili practice with native speakers.

For that, italki is the easiest way to find really inexpensive practice partners and tutors.

Just remember that even if you have all the courses on this list, you’ll still fail at Swahili without the right motivation, and even a poor Swahili course can be effective in the hands of someone with the right amount of determination to succeed.

For tips on how to learn Swahili and overcoming various language learning struggles, subscribe below by ‘Joining the Guild’ (select Swahili as your target language).


Know of a Swahili course that I didn’t mention?

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Donovan Nagel
Donovan Nagel - B. Th, MA AppLing
I'm an Applied Linguistics graduate, teacher and translator with a passion for language learning (especially Arabic).
Currently learning: Icelandic
Icelandic

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