Are you thinking about learning an African language? Then, you might want to consider Swahili. Swahili is the national language in several African countries such as Kenya and Uganda, and its popularity seems to be increasing by the minute.
Recent reports indicate that the use of Swahili is spreading all over the continent, as more and more countries incorporate it into their school curriculum. It has become so relevant, that you can even find some Swahili in the latest Lion King film!
For foreign language learners, Swahili is great because, unlike English or French, it’s very easy to read, write and pronounce. This is because the relationship between sound and spelling in this language is very transparent and has almost no exceptions. No matter whether you are already learning Swahili or you are planning to start soon, we have compiled a list of the best 5 films spoken in Swahili to help you learn it faster.
1. Kiumeni (Masculinity), 2017
Kiumeni is a Tanzanian production entirely spoken in Swahili. Directed by Nicholas Marwa, the film is a romantic comedy about two worlds coming together. A wealthy man falls in love with a girl from the ghetto and wants her to move in with him. A tale as old as time.
Precisely because the plot is very familiar, this is a great film to learn the language, as you can watch it without subtitles and know that you are not going to get lost, even if you don’t understand every word.
With this movie, you can learn lots of vocabulary about family and relationships, such as baba (father) and binti (daughter). Besides, as the story shows the collision between the worlds of rich and poor people, you can spot cultural and linguistic differences between the different social classes depicted in the film.
2. The Forgotten Children of Congo, 2007
Filmed over four weeks in the Democratic Republic of Congo, this powerful and haunting British documentary focuses on the hardships of a group of street children. Because the film deals with difficult themes such as poverty and child labour, it might be a tough watch for younger audiences, but adults should find it both captivating and informative.
This documentary has two advantages for language learners. First, it has a wonderful English narration by Robert Powell that will help you follow the storyline even if you know nothing about Swahili. Secondly, it has been made available on YouTube by the official distributor of the film, so you can watch it for free in great quality and turn on closed captions.
Although the film is mostly spoken in Swahili, there is one other Bantu language that can be heard in some of the interviews: Lingala. Have you ever heard of it? Watch the film and see if you can distinguish between the two languages.
3. Plan B, 2019
This Kenyan-Nigerian romantic comedy penned, directed and edited by the rising Nigerian filmmaker Dolapo ‘LowlaDee’ Adeleke, tells the story of Lisa, who has just broken up with Ethan and is in desperate need of a clean start.
One night, she goes to a nightclub where she meets a stranger named Dele Coker, and then they leave the place together. Five months later, she realises that she is pregnant. Helped by her best friend, she finds out that Coker is a millionaire. Together, the two friends devise a plan to have the man claim responsibility for the baby.
This film is an excellent choice for starter learners, as it’s mostly spoken in English, with a few dialogues in Swahili. In the trailer, you can hear some of these lines while you check the English subtitles:
Tutawaambia nini watu?
What are we going to tell people?
For this one, we suggest you spot the lines in Swahili and play them a few times until you get them right.
4. Something Necessary, 2013
This Kenyan production deals with a turning point in the biography of Anne, a woman struggling to prevent her life from falling apart in the aftermath of civil unrest. Having just lost her husband, Anne has to take care of her ill son while being in charge of her isolated farm.
Then, one day, she meets Joseph, a broken man who is searching for redemption, just like her. Will they be able to get past their painful experiences and build a new life together? This is a powerful, emotional film that you will remember for a long time.
People who are learning Swahili will get to hear lots of words related to feelings, such as hofu (scared), wazimu (mad), and upweke (lonely).
5. Fatuma, 2018
Fatuma is a 2018 Tanzanian drama film. It tells the story of a woman and her 13-year-old daughter, whose tranquil rural life is altered when a strange man schemes to marry off the child. As a result, Fatuma and her family will have to embark on the hardest fight of their lives.
This critically acclaimed film won several awards at international film festivals, including Best Picture. Language enthusiasts will encounter vocabulary related to farming and rural life, such as mazao (crops), mkulima (farmer), and ng’ombe (cows).
Nowadays, we are witnessing the rise of non-English languages. Although there are many reasons for their growing popularity, one thing is for sure: Swahili is a great place to start.
If this article has inspired you to learn lesser-known languages, reach out to us and we will put you in touch with native tutors who will help you get fluent in no time!