Swahili Basics

Learning the Language

You donʼt need to know Swahili to visit Tanzania. Most everyone will have some English skills. But, if you want to make some good friends along the way, learn some basic Swahili before your trip and try it out throughout your trip. Youʼll be rewarded for your efforts.

Swahili is a very consistent language, with basically one sound for each letter. The consonants sound the same as English, but q and x are not used, and c is only used in combination with h/ch. ʻGʼ sounds like ʻgʼoat. ʻJʼ sounds like ʻjʼar.

Vowels consistently have these sounds:

  • a sounds like the ʻaʻ in father....... dada(father) pronounced da-da
  • e sounds like the ʻayʼ in may....... wewe (you) pronounced way-way
  • i sounds like the ʻeeʼ in see.......... sisi (we) pronounced see-see
  • o sounds like the ʻoʼ in go............ moja (one) pronounced moh-ja
  • u sounds like the ʻooʻ tooth.......... duka (shop) pronounced doo-ka

Words in Swahili are given emphasis on the next to the last syllable.

Greetings: Responses:
Hujambo (How are you?) Sijambo (Iʼm fine.)
Mambo vipi (How goes it?) Poa or poa sana (Cool or very cool)

Habari ya asubuhi? (How are you

this morning?)

Nzuri or nzuri sana  (Good or very good)

Habari ya mchana (How are you this afternoon?) Nzuri or nzuri sana (Good or very good)
Habari ya jioni? (How are you this evening?) Nzuri or nzuri sana (Good or very good)

Useful words and phrases:

asante ah-sahn-tay Thank you
asante sana ah-sahn-tay sahn-ah Thank you very much
karibu kar-ee-boo Youʼre welcome
ndio n-dee-oh Yes
hapana ha-pahn-ah No
labda lahb-dah perhaps, maybe
leo lay-oh today
kesho kay-shoh tomorrow
jana jahn-ah yesterday
Nina njaa Nee-na n-jah Iʼm hungry
Jina lako ni nani? Jee-na lah-ko nee nah-nee Whatʼs your name?
Jina langu ni ...... Jee-na lahn-goo nee My name is.....
Una miaka mingapi? Oo-nah mee-ah-ka mee-gah-pee How old are you......
Unasema Kiingereza? Oo-nah-say-ma Kee-een-gay-ray-za Do you speak English?
Unaelewa? Oo-nah-ay-lay-wah Do you understand?
Sielewi See-ay-lay-wee I donʼt understand.
Naelewa Nah-ay-lay-way I understand.
Sasa Sah-sah Now
Sawa Sah-wah Okay
Twende Twayn-day Letʼs go
Ni bei gani? Nee bay gah-nee How much is it?
Ninaomba.... Nee-may-ohm-bah I want.....
Ninapenda...... Nee-may-payn-dah I like.....
Nimeona.... Nee-may-oh-nah I see.....
Ninahitaji..... Nee-may-he-tah-jee I need.....
simba seem-bah lion   punda milia poon-dah mee-lee-ah zebra
twiga twee-gah giraffe   tembo taym-boh elephant
fisi fee-see hyena   ngiri n-gee-ree warthog
chui choo-ee leopard   duma doo-mah cheetah

Some books you might find useful if you want to expand your Swahili skills:

Lonely Planet Swahili
by Phrasebooks and Dr. Martin Benjamin

Living Language Swahili
by Khalfan Mohamed and Abdulwahid Mazrui

Some websites to check out:

www.glovico.org/en/swahii  "Learn Swahili in an innovative way with an online coach through Skype.