[UPDATED: 21 May 2013]
Beth and I have been in Swaziland for almost two years; unfortunately we did not prioritize learning siSwati so our progress was minimal. However, over the last month, I have really committed to learning. Since I am in the process, it is easier to comment on good resources.
Swaziland uses English in business and governmental settings, but siSwati is considered the native tongue. Since only one million people speak it as a first language (3 Million overall), it has been a bit difficult to find helpful resources. It is hard enough (impossible) to find a local speaker in the US, let alone a teacher or lessons. Thus, we have first looked into online and print resources. I hope this list is helpful for other people who may be in a similar situation trying to learn siSwati.
The following links give background and general information on the language:
Peace Corp Material:
By far the most current and widely available material comes from the Peace Corp. They provide a pre-departure pack that includes a study manual and accompanying MP3s. I have provided links below.
The above material is the most current, but it is not the most comprehensive. You can also benefit from their older publications.
I know there is a new siSwati manual that the Peace Corp is working on (I had the privileged of seeing a draft copy). It is much more comprehensive and very useful. Keep a look out for it.
Unfortunately, I have not been able to come across a single print resource that effectively pulls together everything you need to learn the language (especially if you are trying to teach yourself.) However, I have found these three books, when used together, provide a great base to build on. I have provided links to the Amazon and Google Books pages so you can get the details on the books (ISBN, book cover, etc.)
- Handbook of siSwati – Published 1991, 175 pages. This is a course book for classes at UNISA and thus takes a more academic approach. This is where you are going to learn about grammatical structure and parsing. (Amazon | Google)
- Essential siSwati – Published 1981, revised 1990, 80 pages. This is a basic phrasebook designed to be a quick reference. It also includes stem charts. It is a great companion to understand how actual siSwati phrases are formed. (Amazon | Google)
- Concise siSwati Dictionary – Neither of the above books do a good job of teaching vocabulary, so you really need a dictionary. Just know that because of the way siSwati works, you have to have a basic understanding of the language before you can even use this. (Amazon | Google)
I have seen all of these books in Swaziland (Websters in Manzini has all three, CNA in Mbabane and Manzini usually have least couple of them). We were also able to find them online, but we had to search around for them. Besides Amazon (US), here are a couple other places you can look:
Of course to learn siSwati (or any language) you first need to memorize vocab and prefixes/suffixes. I have tried many different options in the past, but recently discovered Anki. It is an easy-to-use flashcard program that works on computers and mobile devices. If you use your computer or Android, it is free (iTunes charges a small fee). It uses algorithms to focus your study time on new and difficult words while stilling keeping the words you know in your memory. You can find out more on the Anki Website.
The best way to learn is to create the “deck” of anki cards yourself, but if you want to go with a short cut, I have upload a 350 siSwati word Anki package as well as an excel word list to accompany it. You can download it below, but please note that I am sure there are some errors in the words, so use at your own risk:
Everyone is going to learn their own way, but I found it helpful to prioritize these words into 3-4 groups based on importance and frequency. Then I focuses seeing the siSwati and knowing the English. As I got used to these words, I added the English word and had to supply the siSwati. (This is easily accomplished by simply typing selecting the “Show Reverse” option on appropriate cards.)
I found I could learn (in both directions) 350 words in about a month if I spent 20-30 minutes a day with Anki. That base allows me to pick up key words in conversation and also have the most basic of conversations (assuming you know some grammar rules to accompany it).
Knowing vocabulary is useless if you can’t put it together into meaningful sentences (or be able to parse sentences given to you.) Learning the grammar is way outside the scope of this post, but I can tell you that to have a basic understanding of siSwati, you have to understand noun prefixes, pronouns, subject concords and object concords. If that already makes sense to you (or you are willing to learn from the books listed above), then this siSwati Cheat Sheet might be helpful.
Another resource to look into once you begin getting a basic understanding is YouTube. There are several videos posted in siSwati (mostly religious) which will be helpful in practicing comprehension. This one is particularly helpful because it includes English subtitles: Thandiwe
I had the opportunity to talk with a headmaster at a school in Swaziland. I asked him which resources he would recommend and here is what he had to say:
The best book (if you can obtain it) is from the Sebenta National Institute called ‘siSwati Setfu’ translated ‘Our siSwati’ and was a joint venture publication between the Sebenta National Institute and the US Government, under contract no. 79-042-100.
I have not been able to track it down, but if you do, please let me know where.
Hopefully the above resources will be helpful if you are one of the very few who want to teach yourself siSwati. I will continue to update this post as I find more.