A Swahili Bible can be a very useful resource in language learning. Reading a chapter of the Bible that you are already familiar with is much easier than reading some other material you aren’t familiar with. I found this to be a great way to build confidence in my reading comprehension. Coupled with dramatized audio recordings of the Swahili Bible, this can be a very powerful learning tool.

Biblia Habari Njema Version

There are two major translations of the Bible in Swahili that I am familiar with. The one that I find most useful is the Habari Njema. It is easy to read and well formatted. Its style is more formal and churchy than conversational Swahili, so you do have to be careful about picking up strange speaking habits, but for learning language comprehension, I think it’s great.

The Habari Njema is available for free on your smartphone or tablet through the excellent YouVersion Bible App (also on Android). In the app you can download an offline version to read without internet access. It is in the versions list under the language Kiswahili with the abbreviation BHN (there is also a BHND which appears to be a duplicate). You can also read it online at the YouVersion web site.

Faith Comes By Hearing offers a dramatized audio recording of the entire Habari Njema New Testament for free, published as an iTunes podcast (or as a non-iTunes podcast).

Together, the written text and audio recording of the Habari Njema can be used in many ways to build reading and listening comprehension. Early on in my language learning I would study like this:

  1. Read a chapter slowly, looking up unknown words
  2. Listen to the audio recording and read the text at the same time, slowing down the speed of the audio if necessary (most podcast players offer a 1/2 speed option)
  3. Listen at 1/2 speed without reading the text
  4. Listen and comprehend at full speed

Swahili Union Version (SUV)

The other common Swahili translation of the Bible is the Swahili Union Version. It is much older and much more widely accepted and trusted in Christian communities in Tanzania. Every church I have been to in Tanzania reads from the SUV, not the Habari Njema.

I have found the SUV to be useless as a language learning tool. Its style is archaic and difficult for a non-native speaker to understand. It uses grammar and vocabulary that I have not found anywhere else. It would be like trying to learn English by studying the KJV, the result of which would be both sad and funny at the same time.

That being said, you should have a copy so that you can follow along at church services and so you can read from it if you will be preaching. Fortunately, it is also available for free as an offline version in the YouVersion Bible App I linked to previously. Look for SUV in the Kiswahili section. It can also be read online on the YouVersion web site.