There are some free online resources and there are some commercial offerings. The online resources are mainly dictionaries, glossaries, and phrasebooks. The commercial offerings seem to be Pimsleur, Rosetta Stone, and Transparent Language. I haven't tried any of these for Swahili, but my experience with Pimsleur is that it's a glorified phrasebook. They don't have a systematic model for learning languages, except to engage you in conversation with a recorded voice. Rosetta Stone is OK for vocabulary, but not much on learning the structure of the language. I don't have any experience with Transparent Language.
I have had great experience with the Michel Thomas Method for learning languages. Over decades, the late Michel Thomas -- a natural polyglot -- developed and fine-tuned a method whereby one could learn the basics of a language, including 20 verb tenses -- in about three days. For the student, the method is easy: you just sit back in an easy chair and respond to prompts from the teacher: no notes, no homework, no pressure. The teacher takes complete responsibility for the learning experience. If the student doesn't learn something, it's the teacher's fault, not the student's, and it's up to the teacher to figure out how to get the point across. The course is structured so that you continually experience success and so that each skill learned provides a foundation for the next one.
Thomas made recordings of his method for several languages, and other courses have been developed using his basic approach. I have found the method very effective for learning Spanish, for brushing up on my school French, and for playing around with a number of other languages, from Greek to Mandarin Chinese. Unfortunately, the current owner of the Michel Thomas brand has no plans to do Swahili. Fortunately, I recently found an alternative creator of language courses that may be even better -- and their courses are free, as in free beer.
The non-profit Language Transfer organization created a similar but distinct method for teaching languages, called the Thinking Method. Language Transfer began as the Cyprus Project, to promote peace in Cyprus by helping Greek speakers learn Turkish and vice versa. They have since branched out to other languages, and are already distributing -- for free -- Spanish, Greek, English for Spanish speakers, and an introduction to Arabic, For example, you can try the Spanish course on YouTube or SoundCloud, or you can download the whole thing here. (When you try it, be sure to listen to the first lesson, which explains how to participate as a student. The experience is intense, so you don't want to do it while driving. You'll want to dedicate time to just learning a language. Also, it's important to think out your answer. There's no bonus for rapid response, quite the opposite. You gain an understanding of the language by thinking before responding. Hence, be sure to hit the pause button after the prompt and before you respond.)
Language Transfer has a standing offer to create free and open-source courses for practically any language, with costs estimated at 8,000 to 18,000 Euros, or approximately 10,000 to 20,000 U.S. dollars. I spoke with Mihalis Eleftheriou, the founder of Language Transfer, and he expressed great interest in developing an English-to-Swahili course comparable to their other courses. He hasn't committed to a specific time yet, but he assured me that they could do practically any language in a year -- and Swahili doesn't rank among the most difficult of languages.
If there's significant interest in the XPRIZE community, I would be willing to work with Language Transfer to create a crowdfunding campaign to support the development of an English to Swahili language training course. The free and open-source nature of this is very consistent with the spirit of the XPRIZE. Besides the benefit to XPRIZE participants, the resulting language course would be available free to anyone, making it easier for the many NGOs and companies that work in sub-Saharan Africa to learn an important language.
Do you want to learn Swahili? Would you or your team contribute to support the development of high-quality, highly effective lessons in Swahili -- available free to anyone? Can you think of a person or organization who might contribute a few thousand dollars to such an effort?
Byron Davies, Ph.D.
StarShine Global Learning Environment & Experience (GLEE)