It’s been a while since I posted about language learning! Because I love languages and learning and Kenya, and because learning to speak Swahili is on my 30 before 30 list, here I am sitting down with a glass of white wine and my little green notebook and an awesome online Swahili curriculum my husband shared with me. It was created by a friend of his as part of a pre-departure orientation for a nonprofit organization in Tanzania, but it is very generously available to anyone interested. The curriculum includes both written and audio explanations of Swahili grammar, along with listening comprehension exercises and worksheets. I posted a while ago about some helpful youtube channels for learning Swahili, but this resource is more comprehensive. Check it out, my fellow language nerds!
I know at least a few of you who read this blog love languages and are always up for learning a little bit of every language out there. So I thought I’d share some free resources I’ve found for learning Swahili.
I started by walking over to my local public library to see what they had in the foreign languages section. But this was disappointing. Shelves and shelves of resources for learning European languages and not much more than a couple of dictionaries and small travelers’ phrase books for Swahili.
I probably could find something good on Amazon, but I’m cheap. Thankfully, there’s a youtube video out there for everything you might ever need to do ever, and speaking Swahili is no exception. Youtube has some surprisingly helpful resources for learning Swahili. All for the attractive price of free.99!
Here are the most helpful channels I’ve found so far:
To get started, a channel called “Learn Swahili with SwahiliPod101.com” has a series called “Swahili in Three Minutes” that goes over the very basics- greetings, introducing yourself, numbers, asking and answering very simple questions, etc. The same channel also has a series of videos called “Swahili Listening Practice” at beginning, intermediate, and advanced levels.
For grammar, the channel “Five College LangMedia” has a series of videos on Swahili grammar, covering verb conjugations and tenses, noun classes, everything. There are about 50 videos, mostly between 5 and 15 minutes long, and they are very clear and easy to follow. I’ll be slowly working through these for a while!
I learn languages best when I have both visual and auditory input, and the above videos have both. And, of course, when I have a chance to practice and produce the language myself. My hubby covers that last part. I try out everything I learn on him and he’s a great sport about it! So find a Swahili-speaking friend! Or just talk to yourself and write in a journal- that works too. You just have to take what you’ve learned and try it out.
By this time, I have a favorite bakery, a favorite butcher shop, a favorite vegetable souk, a favorite hanoot, and a favorite place to get rghayef with amlou on a Saturday morning. Two weeks ago, I found my favorite egg store.
You can find eggs in some hanoots, souks, and the mini supermarket. But this is a shop that sells eggs, eggs, and only eggs. A garage door opens into a small room full of brown eggs in open gray cartons on tables, sorted by size- small, medium, large. I never knew chicken eggs came in different sizes, but they definitely do.
I had been traveling a lot and I hadn’t been there in two weeks, so I didn’t think the shop owner would remember me. But he answered my Darija request for “six of these, please” with “Speak English, remember? You’re my English teacher and I’m your Arabic teacher.” Sure enough, I had told him exactly that in my broken Arabic two weeks ago when I’d discovered the egg store. “I’ll be your English teacher and you’ll be my Arabic teacher, ok?”
“Alright,” I say in English, “What’s the Arabic word for egg?”
“Six eggs, please.”
He wraps the eggs in newspaper and puts them in a plastic bag. He waves goodbye. “After!”
“See you later!”
“See you later.”
I approach the crowd of grand taxis parked outside the bus station, and say to the man with the small notebook and pencil- in Darija, exactly the way I’ve heard Moroccans say it- “Tangier, one seat,” pronouncing Tangier the Arabic way. The man points toward a grand taxi. I hand him thirty dirhams. He asks me something in Darija, something I don’t understand. I look at him quizzically.
He switches to French. “Oh, I am so sorry. I didn’t know you were French. I thought you were Moroccan.”
I’m not French, but I don’t bother telling him I’m not. You find a language in which you can both communicate adequately and you go with it. That’s how it works here.
I’m not often mistaken for a Moroccan woman. I assume it was knowing the grand taxi system that made him think I was. People generally assume I’m Spanish or French.
I’m buying vegetables in the souk. “Are you Spanish?” asks the man selling me half a kilo of tomatoes.
“No, I’m American.”
“Buongiorno!” shouts a random man on the street. Well, that’s a new one. The funny thing is, he’s closer than anyone else.
Two friends and I hail a taxi in the touristy marina district of Agadir. We tell him our destination through the front passenger window. “Fifty dirhams,” he says, in French.
“No,” we say, in Darija. “The meter, please.”
“No,” he says. “Fifty dirhams.”
“It’s not far from here. It’s close. Fifty dirhams is very expensive. We’re not tourists. We know.”
He has also switched to Darija. “It’s night. The rate is double at night.”
“Double? No. Not double. More expensive, but not double. Twenty dirhams.”
“Okay, okay. Thirty dirhams.”
“Okay, okay. I’ll use the meter and you’ll see it’s not less than thirty dirhams.”
We get in the car. He turns on the meter.
We chat on the ride home, telling him we live in Morocco, we’re teachers, we’re visiting a friend, asking him what he thinks of Agadir. His tone has completely changed. We’re chatting like old friends. He gives us his number in case we ever need a taxi and can’t find one.
When we reach our destination, the meter reads twenty-nine dirhams. I point to the meter. “Look. Does it say fifty? Does it?” I can’t resist.
He laughs. “I thought you were tourists.”
“Yeah, we know.”
My city is small, and people are starting to recognize me and realize that I live here. I’m that American girl. I’m not a tourist. I’m here to stay. And I now have a growing collection of unofficial Darija tutors holding me accountable for my progress, in the form of Maroc Telecom employees and vegetable vendors.
I walked into Maroc Telecom to pay my first internet bill. I didn’t think the man behind the counter recognized me, but he did. (Not the Bob Marley fan who drilled a hole through my wall. A different Maroc Telecom man.) I handled the whole transaction in French, because when it comes to money I don’t want to take any chances. And because, let’s be real, French is easy and I’m lazy.
“Elizabeth,” he said, giving me my change, and using my middle name as- for some reason- people here often do. Maybe because my first name means “me” in Arabic and that’s confusing. “How’s your Arabic? Are you learning Arabic? Are you learning the Moroccan language?”
It may have just been small talk, but I interpreted that as a “Use Arabic next month, when I see you again.” Homework assignment duly accepted.
I was buying beets in the vegetable market a couple days later. “Cinco dirham,” said the young man behind the counter.
The guy at the next vegetable stand shouted over, “She speaks Arabic!” And the conversation switched to Darija.
“You speak Arabic?”
Me (in Arabic): “No, I don’t speak any Arabic at all. At all.”
They thought this was hilarious.
“Yes, you do! Are you Spanish?”
“No, I’m American.”
“American?!?” (There are not many Americans here.) “Bravo, America!”
“But I live here now.”
“You’re studying here?”
“Yes, I’m studying Arabic and Spanish. And I’m teaching English.”
I went to my university’s copy center today and walked out later with exactly what I wanted, after communicating only in Darija! This was a big Morocco step for me.
The conversation went like this. (At least, this is what I think I was saying. I may have actually been saying something entirely different.)
“Hello! I’m a new English teacher here…”
“Hello, [my name]!” Whoah, she remembers me! I guess I am the only American around here, after all. I’m a zoo animal.
I have four… four…” Quick, how do you say files??? Wait, nevermind, it’s ok, she understands me.
“Something something something something?”
“Fifty of everything, please.”
“Something something fifty something something?”
“Yes. I don’t know how many students I have… [I was SO proud of that sentence, just sayin’] … but fifty, please.” Most likely I will have closer to a hundred per class, but from what I’ve heard, many of them will not be there on day one.
“Something something you speak Arabic something something?”
“Yes, you do, a little!”
“Yes, I’m learning Darija! I speak English and French, but I live here now.”
“Something something something twelve pages something something fifty something something wait here.”
“Yes, okay, thanks.”
And it worked.
On top of all this, I got my schedule today. A real life actual schedule, with classroom numbers and everything, formatted specifically for me, and in English. Wahoo!