This is a list of the books on Yorùbá language I have worked with and collected over the years. Some of them can be downloaded for free. I started taking classes at the Yorùbá Cultural Institute in New York in 2012, which provided professional language teachers and instructional material. Later I moved back to Europe. It was hard finding a Yorùbá teacher. I had to provide the materials by myself, so I started to search for literature. There are great books on the market, but you really cannot improve your language skills above a certain level without working with a native speaker or someone fluent on this level. Here’s the list of Yorùbá language courses I came across. Also see our review on Yorùbá dictionaries in this blog.
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Fẹ̀hìntọlá Mosádomi, Department of African and African Diaspora Studies, The University of Texas at Austin (ed.): Yorùbá Yé Mi. A Beginning Yorùbá Textbook. Austin, 2011.
Published under Creative Commons License this beginner’s course, including a working book and lots of audio files, is published for free download on the university’s website. It’s a very complete and modern course, well structured, features dialogues and small texts on various topics, chapters on grammar, vocabulary exercises. It is.a step-by-step introduction to the language and the typical cultural issues embedded into a modern educational concept. Nice layout. Highly recommended for every student of Yorùbá language! I printed and bound the PDF file to work on it and always had the MP3 audio files on my mobile with me. A dupe to the editors of this project!
Karin Barber and Akin Oyètádé: Yorùbá Wuyì. Ìwé Kìíní (Book One). A Beginners’ Course in Yorùbá. Hakuna Matata Press Èdè Publications, London, 2000.
This book is meant to get the students talking and includes four audio CDs. The book is a revised edition of “Yorùbá Dùn ún sọ”, which was published several years before (see below). The book has very good grammatical explanations, sections on cultural details, many dialogues and funny illustrations. It focuses on the way how Yorùbá is spoken. Vowel assimilation is a topic, as well as the shortening of words and phrases and dialect variants are mentioned. Here you won’t find “Èwo ni o fẹ́?” – instead it is “Èwo lo fẹ́?”, as used in daily routine. “Ẹja mìíràn can also be pronounced ẹja mìíìn”, is another example. What makes this book so special is that the changing tone patterns are described in detail, something that is missing in other courses. You can read annotations like “Pronounced on a flattened mid tone due to the effect of the Assimilated Low Tone explained on page 102”. This sounds complicated, but by studying with this book you will get a feeling for tonal qualities. “After a high-tone verb, the object pronoun is on a mid-tone, after a mid-tone verb, the object pronoun is on a high (level high) tone, etc.”. It mentions difficulties with written and spoken language. “Orí n fọ́ ọ” could mean “you have– ” or “he/she has a headache”, but the pronunciation is different: 3rd person is a smooth glide at the end, while in 2nd person the vowels can be heard separately. The authors wrote “Òrìṣà” with a capital “O”, what shows their respect for the Yorùbá deities. No Evangelical worldview in this book. Very recommended! Great course.
Antonia Yétúndé Fọlárìn Schleicher: Jé K’Á Sọ Yorùbá/Jé K’Á Ka Yorùbá. Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1993.
This series of two working books, one called “Let’s Talk Yorùbá”, the other one “Let’s Read Yorùbá”, set the standard for the Yorùbá classroom. The latter one is an intermediate course. The layout could need some modernization, but they are both still very good books that can be recommended. It addresses reading, writing, speaking and listening skills and focuses on practical everyday communication. The liner notes talk about some “audio cassettes” available, I have not found any digital files to download. Small texts explain Yorùbá cultural topics, monologues and dialogues introduce new vocabulary, pronunciation exercises help you to develop a higher fluency in speaking. Well-structured and very interesting.
Antonia Yétúndé Fọlárìn Schleicher: Colloquial Yoruba. The Complete Course for Beginners. Routledge, New York, 2008.
This 250-page book originally came with two CDs, today the audiofiles to be downloaded for free on the publisher's website! A digital Kindle or PDF edition is available. It is meant to give the student the opportunity to learn without a teacher. It features very realistic Yorùbá dialogues and it also addresses the community of Olorisha or second-generation Nigerians in the US, as there are e.g. dialogues speaking about Orisha traditions in Brazil or the multi-ethnic background in Brooklyn, comparing it to Lagos. The layout is up to date, the structure of the course is great. This book has the best graphic design of all these courses. So-called “language points” explain not only grammar but give you a deeper insight on the Yorùbá view of the world, e.g. explain the different time-relations or how to speak about sickness. In my opinion it is the best course available on the market today and very practical. I combined it with some more theoretical books on grammar. Recommended. The audio files are now officially free of charge to download.
Earl W. Stevick, Olaleye Aremu, Foreign Service Institute (ed.): Yoruba Basic Course/Yoruba Intermediate Texts. Washington D.C., 1963. (PDF/MP3)
The US Foreign Service Institute once provided many local language courses for their diplomats and the Peace Corps. In 1967 they published a course on Yorùbá, that was digitalized by the Live Lingua Project (MP3 & PDF) and is now under public domain. It can be downloaded free of charge. There is a Basic Course available – 350 pages and 13 hours of audiofiles – and an Intermediate Course – 250 pages and 1 hour of audiofiles. The material is very useful, has a huge focus on the “Tone Drill Series”, just the sound quality of the recording is a bit antiquated, but as it is free, you can’t complain about that. The texts cover many different topics and every phrase is available as MP3. The diacritic marks for the different tones, especially gliding tones, at that time have been written a little bit different than today, but they are added very carefully to the texts.
Kayode J.Fakinlede: Beginner’s Yoruba. Hippocrene Books, Inc, New York, 2010.
This 280-page book also comes with two audio CDs. One of the problems the book has is that it obviously uses a font which does not feature the dotted “ọ” or “ẹ” letters. The dotted letters are there, but they are substituted in another font. The layout this way sometimes is not very clean and with boring frames around the chapters it looks like a document written with Microsoft Word. This is a shame, because otherwise this publication has some profound topics on Yorùbá grammar I have not found in any other book, like the section on numerals. The dialogues are very useful, various cultural aspects are discussed and the vocabulary section is solid and interesting, the audio files are of good quality as well. The author did a great job, but the publisher finally did not afford paying a graphic designer that could handle the Yorùbá language font or design a nice layout. Though, it is highly recommended for the quality of its content! One of the best contemporary Yorùbá courses, that seems to be out of print currently, but many used copies are sold on various online platforms.
Good news: the publishing house is planning to release a new version in spring 2018! So watch out for this new course! Fakinlede also published a contemporary Yorùbá-English/English-Yorùbá dictionary that is discussed in our Review of Yorùbá dictionaries.
E.C. Rowlands: Yoruba. A complete guide and introduction. The English Universities Press Ltd, Edinburgh, 1969. / E.C. Rowlands: Yoruba. A complete course for beginners. Hodder & Stoughton Ltd, Kent, 1998.
These are just two versions of the same book, one is the original edition from 1969, the other one is a reprint from 1998. Rowland’s book is a hidden gem, hard to get today, I found them online on used book platforms like Abebooks or Ebay. For me, this is the best book on Yorùbá language available. You cannot compare it to the modern educational publications like “Colloquial Yorùbá”. This book won’t teach you everyday communication nor is it based on a pedagogical concept. It is more a linguistic study broken down into a language everyone can easily understand. It has the best explanations on various topics of Yorùbá language you are very likely to come across in the other books, without having them explained in detail there. It has e.g. a chapter on the auxiliary word “fi”, what it means exactly or how it can be used, a chapter on “repetition and reduplication”, very funny combinations, and “special words” like ojú, ẹnu, ara, ìdí etc. Every chapter has an exercise, but in a very traditional sense: every exercise is to do a translation from English into Yorùbá or vice-versa. I can highly recommend this book as a guide, it can make the work you do with one of the other books be more complete and gives you a very deep insight onto Yorùbá culture. All the Yorùbá examples of this book have been recorded with a native speaker in 1971 on a university. These files were digitalized and circulate in the Brazilian olorixá community, but the recording is not available officially.
EuroTalk Ltd: Rhythms Easy Yoruba. Audible Audio Edition, 2011, 58 min.
This audio-course is good to learn simple phrases and basic vocabulary for the very beginners. Male and female native speakers pronounce word by word or sentence by sentence in Yorùbá and then give you the English translation. You have some time to repeat it and can practice the tones a little bit. There is no reading necessary and so you can combine learning Yorùbá with other activities. I always listened to it while in the subway or doing some workout. You are going to learn how to greet people, order a beer or buy some foods on the market. This is a standard set of vocabulary for tourists translated into some dozens of languages by EuroTalk Ltd. Some things like “Where’s the beach?“ you won’t use very often when in Nigeria, others like “Please speak more slowly“ are very useful. I liked the course, by simple repeated listening you can easily learn vocabulary. It can be downloaded in the iTunes Store or on Amazon, for example. Recommended for the lazy people.
Karin Barber: Yorùbá dùn ún sọ (Book One). Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1985.
“Yorùbá is pleasant to speak” is the title of this nice book. It is completely handwritten and illustrated by the author with small, quickly sketched drawings. The book was developed on the university of Ile-Ife and is a vehicle designed to stimulate the students to speak. The grammatical explanations are very short and many exercises and dialogues are the core of the lessons. The book gives the teacher a rough outline for a lesson, so you need to study with a native speaker. It is good as an additional source when you are just starting to take Yorùbá lessons together with other people and you have someone who can explain the grammar to you. There is also a second book of this series available. Printed by the University of Ibadan today it is sold very cheap for around 500 Naira. Some of the Nigerian bookshops even ship to Europe or the US.
Ayọ Bamgboṣe: A Grammar of Yoruba. Cambridge University Press, 1966. Paperback edition 2010.
This is a 175-paged reprint of a linguistic study published in 1966 by the Department of Linguistics and Nigerian Languages at the University of Ibadan. It is interesting, but very theoretic and uses a scientific language, talks e.g. about verbal groups, genitival structures, pronoun qualifiers and appositive structures. Definitely no book for beginners, nonetheless a good source if you want to dive deeper into linguistic studies and some Yorùbá specialities.
L.O. Adéwọlé: Beginning Yorùbá. Part 1. The Centre for Advanced Studies of African Societies (CASAS), Cape Town, South Africa, 2000.
This is a handbook for non-speakers of the language. It is written by a linguist from Obafemi Awolowo University in Ile-Ife and also addresses academic students. It has the best and most detailed chapter on pronunciation I have read so far. There is also a second part available I have not read yet.
Bayo Odusina, Bolaotan Agbonile: Conversational Yorùbá (Including Tonal Music Cord “Do-Re-Mi” Pronunciations). Create Space Independent Publishing Platform, USA, 2012.
This is a self-published book sold on Amazon. I guess the authors are the beautiful couple on the cover. At the backside it says “Highly pictorial and fun-filled it is recommended for readers ages 3 and up.” This is optimistic. It is more recommended to parents, willing to teach the Yorùbá language to their children, or addresses adult learners like me. The chapters are composed of a vocabulary list printed in huge letters, four words per page is the maximum! I love the idea of vocabulary books based on images, but then you need a good thematic structure, an experienced graphic designer and a huge stock of high quality images. Graphic icons, tonal sounds in “do-re-mi” and the English translations are added. The Yorùbá writing in this book comes with diacritic marks and dotted letters. Each chapter has an exercise translating English sentences into Yorùbá. It lacks a precise grammar, e.g. the demonstrative pronouns “this, that” are included in a list of personal pronouns like “we, us, they/them/their”. Unemphatic pronouns, possessive pronouns and object pronouns are grouped together without further explanations. This is a beginner’s book, if you want to do some translation exercises from English into Yorùbá, a book to do your homework. For the grammar you will rely on other publications. I appreciate the committed work of the authors, but it should be improved.
Chief M.A.Fabunmi: Yoruba Idioms. Pilgrim Books, 1970/African Universities Press, Ibadan, 1984 (Reprint).
This is a great book that consists of a collection of Yorùbá idiomatic expressions, edited by Wande Abimbola. I used it as vocabulary guide, it is not really an educational book. Especially poetry like Ifá-verses are full of them and this book deciphers and translates them into English, literally and as interpretation. Whole phrases or expressions, like “gbé ara dì” are explained, meaning “to prepare hard for something”. Every expression comes with a whole sentence as an example and an explantion of its meaning in Yorùbá, plus translation into English. A very rare book that can improve your poetic and advanced Yorùbá skills a lot!
Defense Language Institute, Foreign Language Center: Yoruba Basic Language Survival Guide, California, 2008.
This is the weirdest Yorùbá course I came across, or even the craziest language course that might exist. Some years ago I came across 300 short MP3 files and a PDF. I was just searching Google for something like “Yoruba download mp3”. I was happy finding so many files for free and started listening to the first files: “Stop! Dúró!” – “Stop or I will shoot! Dúró tàbi kí n pa ẹ́!” – “Follow our orders!” Ṣe nkan tí a wí!” – “Put your weapons down! Ko nkan ìjà rẹ silẹ̀!” – “Do not move! Gan sibẹ́!” It continues like that, but also has some more useful phrases later on, asking for directions, food, weather, housing etc. At that time I had never have travelled to Nigeria and was wondering whether these phrases would help me to survive in the streets of Lagos. The files are online to find as “Yoruba Civil Affairs Phrases” or “Yoruba Language Survival Kit” and were included in various apps for smartphones, don't waste your money for these recordings, which can be downloaded for free! Military-related phrases for foreign language learners, based on modules publicly available today from the US Defense Language Institute. Mission-specific vocabulary – not the mission I am on, but it is for free, and some phrases are useful. And hopefully many of them you will never hear from someone shouting at you!
Antônia Maria Almeida, Gilberto Simões Braúna: Gramática Yorùbá Para Quem Fala Português. Pélú àwọn isuré lati òrìṣà Ṣàngó. Ẹgbẹ́ Ipamọ́ Èdè Yorùbá Ni Basìí (Sociedade de Preservação de Língua Yorùbá no Brasil), Salvador, 2001
This is a very nice example of a Yorùbá course book dedicated to the Brazilian community of olorixá interested in getting to know the basic principles of their ancestor’s language. It is written in Portuguese and has several chapters on grammar, like “Tonalização, Pronomes, Advérbios, Verbos, etc.” and a list of 110 phrases for everyday use, some of them fit to the Brazilian environment, like “Ṣé o fẹ́ràn omi-dúdu?”, translated with “Do you like coffee?”, literally “black water” (Será que você gosta de café?) or “Mo bẹ̀ ìbùkún fún ìyáloriṣa mi”, translated as “I begged for a blessing for my Iyalorisha” (Eu pedi a benção para minha Ìyáloriṣa). I also like the “Alufa kan lù ni ilẹ̀kún mi” and imagine an upset Brazilian olorixá using this phrase for a Catholic priest (translated as "um padre") or an Evangelical pastor. Some tone marks are missing. It is a nice, small 120-pages grammar book for beginners, to get an idea of the language. It shows the Orisha community’s general interest in learning and understanding Yorùbá and is one of the few Portuguese-Yorùbá grammar books. I really enjoyed reading it.
Eurotalk: Talk Now! Yoruba / Instant Yoruba /Ultimate Yoruba. CD-ROM, USB, tablet app. Online.
I already reviewed the audio course released by Eurotalk in this list (see above). These courses here are packages which can be downloaded from their website to your PC or Mac, where they will be installed as an interactive program. Various courses exist, like “Talk Business Yoruba” or “Talk The Talk Yoruba”. I have not tested them, because they are rather expensive and the phrases mentioned in the previews do not really interest me. Examples like “My computer crashed and I have lost all my files”, a so-called business phrase, or “I play in the volleyball team” are not the sort of things I talk about when I am in Yorùbáland. Eurotalk offers these courses in over 75 languages, and all of them come with the same sentences. It is great that the company covers many “exotic” languages - but without adopting them to the local environment some phrases do not make sense. Who needs the Yorùbá word for “grapes”, which is translated as an English loanword (grepu), in West Africa? I am sure there are useful phrases as well and they offer a huge variety of courses, e.g. “Talk The Talk Yoruba” is “designed with teenager’s social lives in mind”. I wonder if it is a young Nigerian’s social life. I am thinking of downloading a course, I am curious. Who wants to study Yorùbá language with a computer program in front of a screen, check their Website.
Abraham Ajibade Adeleke: Intermediate Yoruba. Language, Culture, Literature and Religious Beliefs Part II. Trafford Publishing, 2011.
This book with its 290 pages is printed on demand and can also be purchased as an e-book. It is part of a trilogy: Introduction, Intermediate and Advanced Level Yorùbá, but I have read just the Intermediate one. I ordered it when I was looking for some new material, after having worked over all the other books in the list above. It has some smaller texts on Yorùbá costums in English language and deals with lots of different topics, some of them I was already familiar with from Nigerian Yorùbá educational school books. This book has a major issue though: it has absolutely no diacritic marks for the three tone-levels nor the dotted letters “ẹ”, “ọ” and “ṣ”. I am wondering why the author, a coordinator of African Studies at Albany State University, is publishing a book lacking these important features. This is a no-go for a Yorùbá study book, so I cannot recommend it. Maybe a Yorùbá speaker does not need diacritic marks or dotted letters, but for a Yorùbá student they are necessary. It’s no fun reading this book, sorry ooo.
Fernandes Portugal: Guía Práctica de la Lengua Yorubá en cuatro Idiomas (Español, Inglés, Portugués y Yorubá), Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, La Habana, 1998.
This book was published in 1998 in Havana (and in a second edition in Brazil in 2013). It is a course with translations into English, Portuguese and Spanish - too much for one “practical guide”. 140 pages in four languages could be reduced to 70 pages in two languages. In English the author describes himself teaching “Afro-negro Theology”. After starting with an “Agò mo júbá” prayer he dedicates the book “to all who wish to discover your religious origins in the land of the Òrisà”, two lines below he says “this book does not have a religious focus”. The myth that the Yorùbá people were “banished from Mecca and obligated to the west nigerian region, where they ever stay” is the introduction. Even on the first page simple greetings have spelling mistakes, dotted letters and tonemarks are missing on “Ẹ Se O!” or “Ṣe Alaafia Ni?” The book is divided into 26 lections, that cover usual grammar topics. Examples of sentences are given, no dialogues, no exercises. There are useful phrases, others are like: “Kókòrò ni ọkan/Insects have a heart/Inseto tem coração/Los insectos tienen corazón”. Hm? Is this some kind of proverb? After the sentence “I love you” in Yorùbá comes “Àyà rẹ tobi.” Oh, those Latinos! “Yo puedo golpearte” is translated as “I can beat on you” - “Èmí le lù ọ́”. The highlight is “Èmí fẹ́ràn àwọn ọlọpa USA”, what means “I like USA police!” Does this have a political meaning in a book published in Havana? We’ll never know. When I read “I have a monkey”, “Èmi ní ọbọ”, I was thinking of my Yorùbá teacher and how she would have fun with this phrase. Few people will ever be in the position to state this truthfully, very likely people will understand another thing as a mispronounced “ọbọ”, (which is usually spelled “ọ̀bọ”). Ask your teacher... I still have to watch out for the new and hopefully updated Brazilian version of this book!
Language Chimp: Learn Yoruba. Conversational Course Suitable For Beginners. MP3 Audio Included.
Do not buy this course. I found it on Ebay and was curious about it and ordered it. Just to find out that this is the same course from the US Foreign Service Institute from 1967 that is available for free in the Internet (see above). Someone copies the files on a CD, wraps it up in a designed sleeve and sells it to people like me, without having any work with it. Various versions of it can be found in different designs, even on Amazon. The only authentic thing about it is this Nigerian-style business idea.
Michael Ashiwaju: Lehrbuch der Yoruba-Sprache. Verlag Enzyklopädie Leipzig, 1967.
Just a very short comment on this book, as it is written in German and Yorùbá. I liked it a lot, possibly because it is written in my mother tongue and it was the first time I could read direct translations of grammatical Yorùbá issues and phrases into German - and not into English. It is a good and well-structured book. As the author mentions it is based mostly on educational school books that were available in Nigeria at that time, like the “Aláwìíyé” series or other books on Yorùbá culture, see below.
Various Educational Books published in Nigeria
Nigerian school books written in Yorùbá provide an excellent resource for the language student and can provide material for many classes on different levels. Several very beautiful series exist, many of them come with great colored or black and white ink drawings. Especially the original old editions have great artwork in them, the newer re-issues often are produced cheaper and lack the original drawings. Look out for these series: “Taiwo ati Kehinde”, “Karọ o Jire”, “Aláwìíyé” or “Ìwé Kíkà Àsìkò”. They are just hard to get outside of Nigeria. A good source is the library of a university near you, maybe there is an African language department.
In the 1960s and 1970s lots of books were published in Yorùbá language only, not only school books for children, but also books on Yorùbá culture and traditions. I found incredible stuff in some libraries, it is worth browsing through the shelves. Look out for “Awọn àṣà ati òrìṣà ilẹ Yoruba”, that gives descriptions of the Orisha including prayers, or “Àṣà ìbílẹ̀ Yoruba” with chapters on burial rites, chieftaincy, marriage or hunters. Often these books have diacritic marks on the vowels only when necessary, if some words are unclear or have multiple meanings. Most of them were written for Yorùbá-speakers, not for foreign-language students. Also dialect expressions are often to find, my teacher always complaint about the many words from Ile-Ife they were using, as she is from Ondo and studied the modern “Lagos-Yorùbá”, as she called it.
If you make it to Nigeria, the biggest shop for Yorùbá language books I found is the bookshop at the Awolowo University in Ile-Ife, see the image above. A dream come true! Also classic novels are available there, like “Àdììtú Olódùmarè” by D.O. Fágúnwà. Some of them are even available as Yorùbá audio-books, I found some of them on Youtube. Here you need the support of a Yorùbá teacher, many of the words and poetic expressions you won’t find in a dictionary, but this leads you directly to the very advanced level.
Have fun studying Yorùbá! Tell me about other books you can recommend! Thank you!