8 Interesting Facts About the Swahili Language That You Probably Didn’t Know

If there is one good thing about 2020, it’s that we had a lot of free time. Whether you like cooking, playing music or craft-making, you were surely able to explore your hobbies and make the most of such a strange year.

At Language Trainers, for example, we are very passionate about learning. We’re constantly adding new languages to our repertoire and discovering fascinating cultures. If you share this passion, then we might have a great suggestion for you. (No, it’s not a French course. If you’re a language lover, we assume you’ve done that already!)

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Photo via Wikpedia

Have you ever heard about Swahili, the national language in African countries such as Kenya and Uganda? Well, if you’re interested in African languages but don’t know where to start, this might be the best place. Unlike languages like French or English, Swahili has an extremely simple writing system with very few variations in sound and spelling correspondence. As a result, it is fairly easy to read and pronounce.

To persuade you to give Swahili a try, we compiled a list of 8 surprising facts about this language in the hope that, by the end of the article, you feel inspired to learn more about it.

1. It’s many languages in one

As a result of years of intensive trade all along the East African coast, Swahili has been influenced by lots of local Bantu and Arabic languages, resulting in a very interesting mix. But the influences don’t stop there. Swahili also contains English, French, Portuguese and German elements, which speakers borrowed at different times due to commercial contact. This means that if you already speak one of these languages, you will have a head start!

2. It’s spoken by millions of people

If you think this is a marginal language you may only find in some almost extinct towns in Kenya, think again. Worldwide, there are around 16 million people who speak Swahili as a mother tongue. So, if you travel to Africa, it won’t be hard to find someone to practise your speaking skills with.

3. Swahili people love traditional tales

For a language that originated as a contact dialect, the Swahili people have a very rich literary culture, as shown by the dozens of myths and legends that exist in their language. Many of these are brief stories that tell about Mohammed’s life and adventures, and they go back to the Muslim faith and traditions. For language learners, reading these folkloric texts could be an interesting and enriching way to learn Swahili.

4. There is a Swahili BBC

The BBC World Service is an international broadcasting service owned and developed by the BBC. Funded by the United Kingdom’s television licence fee, it covers the latest news in 40 languages, among them Swahili. This means that you can read and hear what’s happening in the world in Swahili from one of the most reliable sources worldwide.

5. It’s easier than you might think

If you want to learn an African language that is not too difficult (or not difficult at all!), then Swahili is definitely the best choice. This is because, unlike most African languages, Swahili doesn’t use distinctive pitch levels to mark the meaning of words. Besides, Swahili is also easy to read, as its spelling-to-sound rules are extremely simple!

6. There’s a hybrid slang of Swahili and English

Sheng is a completely different variety from the Swahili spoken on the coast. It’s a mixture between Swahili and English that originated among the urban youth in Nairobi. Nowadays, however, it’s quickly spreading across age-groups and social classes, and gaining popularity in places such as Tanzania and Uganda.

7. Swahili has a rich history

The earliest known documents written in Swahili are letters that date back to the early 18th century. These were found in present-day Tanzania and are now kept in the Historical Archives of Goa, India. After you’ve learned some Swahili, wouldn’t it be nice to visit the Archive, read these ancient letters, and see how much you can understand without help from a guide?

8. A very iconic line from a Disney movie is in Swahili

You probably didn’t know it, but ‘Hakuna Matata’, the most iconic phrase from The Lion King, is a Swahili expression meaning “no worries”. It is a combination of the words Hakuna (‘there is not’) and Matata (‘problem’ or ‘worries’).

But the presence of Swahili in this film doesn’t end there. Rafiki and Pumbaa’s names also derive from Swahili! Rafiki, the mandrill, is a Swahili name that means ‘friend’, whereas Pumbaa is a word to refer to someone silly, irresponsible, or careless. It all makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?

Which of these facts did you find the most surprising? Can you think of any other Disney films that feature foreign languages? Let us know in the comment box.

If you want to learn Swahili, we suggest you do it with a native tutor who can help you understand all the nuances that dominate the usage of idioms and informal expressions.

Do you enjoy the social aspect of learning a new language? Then you should definitely check our Online Open Group Lessons, where you will get to learn with other students who share your passion for languages.

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