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Study an African Language From Home

written by: Louanne Piccolo • edited by: Laurie Patsalides • updated: 8/16/2012

Wouldn't it be fun to follow lessons from anywhere in the world, talk to mother-tongue African speakers and pick lesson times to fit your schedule? Outside of actually living in Africa, learning the language online is the next best bet!

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    Not Easy to Find, But Not Impossible

    Learning a new language opens doors to exciting opportunities for travel and work overseas. Some languages, like Spanish and English, are more popular than others so it is easy to find a course in them, but African language lessons like Zulu, Sotho, Tswana, Xhosa or Swahili are less common. There are more than 1,000 different languages spoken in Africa, and it would probably be difficult to find lessons for all of them. However, lessons for the more widely-spoken languages such as Zulu, Sotho and Swahili do exist.

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    A Variety to Choose From

    A quick search shows that you can find online courses, but that they may be lacking structure for those who need the basics: The African language has a completely different grammatical structure from Latin and Germanic root languages. Luckily, there are some thorough courses with tutors, books, CD-ROMS and homework if you are looking for a more personalized touch:

    At No Charge:

    • UNISA, a distance-learning university in South Africa, runs courses for Northern and Southern Sotho, Zulu, Tswana and Xhosa. Lessons include greetings, numbers, transport and the human body, and they're interactive. Each theme follows a typical dialogue after which you can listen to the sentences being spoken by mother-tongue speakers and are then given a chance to try the language yourself and to watch a video of the conversation. A lot of cultural information is given underneath each dialogue making it interesting if you have never lived in Africa. These lessons are more of an introduction to learning an African language than a comprehensive language course.

    • FSI Language Courses make Swahili available in an electronic format. There is text and audio material but may be more adapted to learners who already have some knowledge of the language they want to learn.

    Paid Courses:

    • The UCLA Center for World Languages in Los Angeles offers a distance-learning elementary Zulu course. Lessons are given through an online course management system with set class times for video conferencing. This is a great choice if you are a remote student looking for a serious distance-learning course in Zulu online. You can contact your tutor outside of set class hours as well as during video conferencing.

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    Working With a Tutor

    You can also learn to speak an African language through interactive language lessons with a private tutor. These sites require the student to pay a small cost, but they are the equivalent of taking private lessons in your home. Two well-known and respected sites are:

    • Verbal Planet offers one-to-one language lessons with a native-speaking language tutor. This method is appealing because you have the opportunity to speak to another person in the language you want to learn which is, almost certainly not possible at home. It makes learning more realistic than memorizing grammar rules from a book. There are trial lessons so that you can choose the tutor you are comfortable with. Verbal Planet also has a great range of study aids and tools to supplement lessons with a tutor.

    • Lingueo is a fast-growing site that is very similar to Verbal Planet. They accept individual learners, children and also contracts with companies that want their entire staff to learn a foreign language. Lingueo is based in Paris and is well-known for its polyglot parties, which are gatherings in bars giving you the chance to speak with others learning the same language.

    You must find a teacher you would like to have lessons with, book a class with the teacher and pay the fee just before each class. Sites like these often use their own teaching platforms or Skype for lessons. African languages cannot be guaranteed but it is worth browsing through the registered teachers to find one who teaches an African language.

    This information is provided for you from the author's own experience. Hope you are well on your way to learning!