Bilingual Reading Practice for African Languages

As a language-learner, trying to read in your target language is great practice! For those who already have some basis in the language, it can really help you hone your skills. For those with less experience, it’s a great way to immerse yourself (especially when real-life immersion isn’t possible).

That being said, it’s also really challenging! Sometimes, if you don’t understand what a text is saying, it’s easy to get lost and simply give up. Since Google Translate doesn’t support many African languages (or at least not well), it’s hard to figure out what a confusing sentence means.

That’s why bilingual reading practice (where the passage is available in both your L1 and your L2, both your first and second languages) is so helpful. You can read, and then check that you understood. Read, and then use the translation to figure out what that weird sentence meant. Read, and then deduce some new grammar rules based on the translation.

So, for your language-study needs, here are a few (online, free) bilingual reading resources. Happy reading!

  • Nalibali has MANY stories on their website, available in various South African languages: English, Afrikaans, isiXhosa, isiZulu, Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, Siswati, and Xitsonga. For language-learners, this would be for the intermediate level.
  • Bilingual-Picturebooks has a really cool tool where you can search for books by language, and then generate a book by selecting the two languages you’d like — super cool! As far as African languages, they have books in Luganda, Pulaar, Siswati, and Tigrinya.
  • Global Storybooks has a cool tool where you can select books by country, and then toggle each page between the languages of that country. For example, the Kenya page allows readers to flip back and forth between Swahili and English versions. Plus, it includes audio! Countries/languages include CAR (Sango, Peul, Zandé), Gabon (Fang, Myene, Punu, Nzebi, Mbere, Shira), Ghana (Dagbani, Dagaare, Ewe, Frafra, Ga, Gonja, Hausa), Guinea (Fulani, Maninka, Susu, Kissi, Kpelle), Kenya (Swahili, Ekegusi, Gikuyu, Kikamba, Maa, Ng’aturkana, Olukhayo, Oromo, Samburu, Somali), Madagascar (Malagasy), Mali (Arabic, Bambara, Bomu, Tieyaxo Bozo, Toro so Dogon, Maasina Fulfulde, Mamara Senoufo, Kita Maninkakan, Soninke, Koyraboro Senni, Syenara Senoufo, Tamasheq, Xaasongasango), Mauritius (Kreol), Nigeria (Pidgin, Fulfulde, Hausa, Kanuri, Yoruba, Zarma), South Africa (isiZulu, isiXhosa, Sepedi, Setswana, Sesotho, Xitsonga, siSwati, Tshivenda, Ndebele), Sierra Leone (Limba, Mende, Temne), Rwanda (Kinyarwanda, Swahili), Tanzania (Maa, Swahili), Uganda (Swahili, Acholi, Adhola, Alur, Aringa, Ateso, Kakwa, Khayo, Kinyarwanda, Lubukusu, Luganda, Lugbarati, Lukhonzo, Lumasaaba, Lunyole, Lusoga, Ma’di, Runyankore, Rutooro), Zambia (Bemba, Nyanja, Tonga, Lozi, Tumbuka), as well as the relevant foreign languages (French, English, Spanish, Portuguese, Gujrati, Mandarin, etc.) for each country.

If you know of any other bilingual reading resources, please let me know and I’ll add them to the list!

Mandla: Duolingo for African Languages

I love hearing about people who see a problem and build the solution. For a group of first-generation African immigrants in the US, the problem was learning their heritage languages, and the lack of resources to do so.

Their solution? An online (phone and web) platform to help people learn African languages, called Mandla. Their intuitive platform is open for beta testing (and officially set to launch this fall). Mandla functions similarly to Duolingo, with users learning vocabulary through interactive activities (with both written and audio elements).

Duolingo is one of the most popular language-learning applications, but it leaves much to be desired in terms of African languages. The only African language currently available on Duolingo is Kiswahili, Africa’s most widely-spoken language.

Mandla, on the other hand, offers lessons in 14 African languages (see chart below), making it the first platform of its kind.

LanguageSpoken InMandlaDuolingo
AmharicEthiopiaYes!No.
BambaraMaliYes!No.
HausaNigeria, primarilyYes!No.
IgboNigeriaYes!No.
KassemGhana and Burkina FasoYes!No.
KinyarwandaRwandaYes!No.
LingalaCongo (ROC+DRC), primarilyYes!No.
MooréBurkina FasoYes!No.
OromoEthiopia and KenyaYes!No.
SomaliSomalia, Ethiopia, and KenyaYes!No.
SwahiliTanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and more! Yes!Yes!
TwiGhanaYes!No.
YorubaNigeriaYes!No.
ZuluSouth AfricaYes!No.

I am really excited about this platform as a language-learning tool, and look forward to their official launch this fall!

PS. If you’re a fluent speaker of an African language, Mandla is looking for volunteers to join their team! Check out their website for more info.

Afaan Oromoo (Oromo) Language-Learning Resources

Afaan Oromoo (also known as Oromiffa) is spoke by 50+ million people across several countries (mainly Ethiopia and Kenya). Despite being the most common first language in Ethiopia, it was actually banned in Ethiopia from 1941-1991 (starting when Haile Selassie declared the ban, ending with the fall of the Derg regime), for political reasons.

Beginner Resources

  • VOCABULARY: This page has lists of vocabulary in Afaan Oromoo and English, organised by topics such as “colors” and “weather.”
  • VOCABULARY GAMES: Digital Dialects has several vocabulary games to practice basic vocabulary (mostly numbers and some general nouns).
  • VOCABULARY GAMES: MAL has a variety of vocabulary games, and a few games with basic phrases. More extensive than the Digital Dialects page.
  • BASIC QUESTIONS: Beekan Erena’s page (Harvard) lists a variety of introductory questions, which can be good practice exercises for either speaking or writing.
  • VOCABULARY/GRAMMAR: OPride has a PDF version of a 52-page presentation, which includes a great amount of grammar, vocabulary, and practice exercises (as well as some background on Oromo people).
  • PRONUCIATION: Tesfaye Gudeta has made a great set of videos (assembled into a playlist), teaching basic Afaan Oromoo, which is very helpful if you’re looking for audio to go along with your lessons.
  • PRONUNCIATION: Kakuu has made another great set of videos going through introductory Afaan Oromoo lessons. The playlist is here.

Intermediate Resources

  • TEXTBOOK: The old (1975) Peace Corps textbook for Oromiffa includes 20 units, covering different topics. It starts from a beginner level, but because it’s such a substantial text, completing it would bring you to an intermediate level, I believe.
  • TEXTBOOK: A newer (2014) version of the Peace Corps textbook. Completing all the content in this book should bring you to intermediate, as well.
  • DICTIONARY: If you’re working to expand your vocabulary, this Oromo dictionary is a great tool.
  • WIKIBOOK: An extensive collection of Afaan Oromoo grammar lessons — great resource! I came across this on a Peace Corps blog, which credits the Wikibook to PC Ethiopia G4 volunteer John Stevens-Garmon.

Advanced Resources

  • READING: VOA Afaan Oromoo and BBC Afaan Oromoo publish news articles in Afaan Oromoo, which makes great reading practice for those at an advanced level.
  • VIDEOS/LISTENING: BBC Afaan Oromoo also has a video page, which is great as a listening exercise.
  • VIDEOS/READING/EXERCISES: The National Foreign Language Center at the University of Maryland has an extensive collection of Afaan Oromoo exercises, many with audio/video clips involved. Almost all are at the advanced level. Free registration is straightforward and required to view the content.

Sidaamu Afoo (Sidaama) Language-Learning Resources

Sidaamu Afoo is the language of the Sidama Region in southern Ethiopia. Spoken by almost nine million people, Sidaamu Afoo is a Cushitic language and is written with the Latin alphabet (like English).

That being said, resources for learning Sidaamu Afoo are harder to find than some other Ethiopian languages (such as Amharic, Tigrinya, or Afaan Oromo). So, I’ve decided to put together a list of resources which can help, should you be interested in learning Sidaamu Afoo.

However, many of these texts aren’t “language-learning” texts (sorry), and they are full of very technical/linguistic explanations of grammar. For a language learner, you’re going to have to do a lot of the work in organizing and identifying what information is important for you to actually learn. Writing down vocabulary words and easy phrases (with English translations) is a good way to start developing your own “textbook” in your notebook.

To be clear: I am not the creator of any of these resources — this is simply a compilation of links to Sidaamu Afoo resources from across the internet, to help anyone interested in learning the language!

Best Introductory Resource:

SIDAAAMU AFOO INTRODUCTORY COURSE (PDF): Sidama Language Level One: This is the resource most geared towards language-learners: if you’re going to start anywhere, start here! It’s got some great vocabulary lists, and a good basic phrasebook.

Dictionaries:

SIDAAMU AFOO DICTIONARY (ONLINE): Sidaama Dictionary: This is a searchable, online dictionary (run in a wiki-style creative commons format) with a bunch of Sidaamu Afoo vocabulary. If you’re looking for a mobile version, there are also several Sidaamu Afoo dictionaries available as phone applications, as well.

SIDAAMU AFOO DICTIONARY (PDFS): Sidaama-Amharic-English Dictionary: This blog post has links to a Sidaama-Amharic-English dictionary, created by the Sidama Information and Culture Department, scanned into PDFs. Dictionary is separated into different files, split alphabetically.

Video/Audio

SIDAAMU AFOO INTRODUCTORY COURSE (VIDEO): Sidama Language Tutorial: Not the greatest quality of video (just in terms of pixellation), but can be a good starting point to hear what Sidaamu Afoo sounds like, and to go over some basic grammar and vocabulary.

Academic Articles

842 PAGES OF SIDAAMU AFOO GRAMMAR/VOCABULARY: A Grammar of Sidaama (Sidamo): This text is a beast — 842 pages, and it’s full of good stuff. For language learners, I think the best way to use this text is to focus on the vocabulary (of which there is plenty) and easy example sentences/phrases (translated into English). Don’t get lost in too much of the technical stuff.

FOR SOME VOCABULARY: The Syllable Structure of Sidaamu Afoo: While this text is really about syllables, it includes a BUNCH of great vocabulary, much of it quite basic (and all translated into English). I’d approach this text by simply jotting down useful words, and trying to organise them into categories as an vocabulary exercise.

FOR TECHNICAL GRAMMAR: Sketch of Sidaama Grammar: This links to a full academic journal issue. The text I’m referencing starts on page 88/163. Many of the tables/charts have useful information, such as a list of personal pronouns (you/she/we/they, etc… page 108/163 of the PDF) and demonstrative pronouns (this/that… page 110/163 of the PDF).

FOR INTERMEDIATE READING PRACTICE: School Grammars with Everyday Vocabulary: Suggestion for a Culture Specific Approach, with Sidaamu Afoo as an Example: I would skip to page 330 (as marked in the document, page 12/20 on the PDF) of this article, and look at the appendix. This appendix includes various examples of basic sentences, translated in both English and Sidaamu Afoo. These sort of sentence-by-sentence translations are great for intermediate reading practice.

Know of any other resources to learn Sidaamu Afoo? Please feel free to comment/message me with any additional resources you know of, and best of luck in your language-learning journey!