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Learn Swahili

JAMBO is one of the most common words you will hear spoken throughout Kenya. This is the simplest Swahili greeting, and is often the first word learned by visitors to Kenya.

Swahili (locally referred to as KiSwahili) is Kenya's national language. Swahili originated on the East African coast, as a trade language used by both Arabs and coastal tribes.

The language incorporated elements of both classical Arabic and Bantu dialects, and became the mother tounge of the Swahili people who themselves rose from the intermarriage of Arab and African cultures.

The word Swahili itself came from the Arabic for 'coast' Sahel. But the language became a pervasive influence, and a regional lingua franca, becoming widely used throughout Kenya and Tanzania.

Today, the language is also used in regions of Ethiopia, Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, the Congo and Zambia, and is the most widely spoken African language. In Kenya, most people generally speak a tribal language at home, use Swahili as an everyday language, and English for business.

Swahili is a relatively simple language, being highly phonetic with a rigid grammar. The only difficulty in learning Swahili comes from the extensive use of prefixes, suffixes and infixes, and a class system for nouns.

Coastal Swahili remains the most pure, and the Island of Zanzibar is considered the home of the language. The further away from the coast that you travel, the less sophisticated the language generally becomes, and grammar is slightly more flexible. Nairobi has now become the home of Sheng, a fashionable Creole of Swahili, Kikuyu, English and slang.

Still, even a little Swahili goes a long way in Kenya. It is worth learning a little, and most Kenyans are thrilled to hear visitors attempt to use any Swahili at all.

The following guide will let you try out some basic Swahili:

Useful Greetings
Basics
Daily Needs
Travel & Directions
Time calendar & Number
Signs
Words worth knowing

USEFUL GREETINGS

Jambo or Hujambo Hello, good day, how are you? (multy-purpose greeting, means"problems?")
Jambo or Sijambo (the response)No problems
Habari? How are things? (literally"news?")
Nzuri Fine, good, terrible
Hodi! Hellow? Anyone in? (said on knocking or entering)
Karibu Come in, enter, welcome(also said on offering something)
Kwaheri/ ni Goodbye to one/ many
Asante/ ni Thank you to one/ many
Sana Very(acommon emphasis)
Bwana Mister, the equivalent of monsieur in French
Mama Like the French madame or madamoiselle, for adult women
Kijana Youth, teenager(pl,vijana)
Mtoto Child, kid(pl,watoto)
Jina lako nani? What’s your name?/ What
Unaitwaje? Are you called?


BASICS

My name is / I am called Jina langu ni/ Ninaitwa
Where are you from? Unatoka wapi?
Where are you staying? Unakaa wapi
I am from Ninatoka
I am staying (at / in). Ninakaa
See you Tutaonana ( Lit. "We shall meet")
Yes Ndiyo (Lit. it is so)
No Hapana
I don’t understand Sifahamu / Sielewi
I don’t speak Swahili but Sisemi Kiswahili, lakini
How so you say in Swahili? Unasemaje na Kiswahili
Could you repeat that? Sema tena (Lit. speak again)
Speak slowly Sema pole pole
I don’t know Sijui
Where? Wapi?
Here Hapa
When? Lini?
Now Sasa
Soon Sasa hivi
Why? Kwa nini?
Because Kwa sababu
Who? Nani?
What? Nini?
Which? Gani?
True kweli
And/with na
Or au
(It) is (they) are Ni (a useful connector when you
cant think of any)
Isn’t it? Siyo?
I’m British / American / German / French / Italian Mimi Mwingereza / Mwamerika / Mdachi / Mfaransa / Mwitaliano

DAILY NEEDS

Where can I stay? Naweza Kukaa wapi?
Can I stay here? Naweza kukaa hapa?
Room/s Chumba/vyumba
Bed/s Kitanda/vitanda
Chair/s Kiti/viti
Table/s Meza
Toilet, bathroom Choo, bafu
Washing water Maji ya kuosha
Hot/cold water Maji moto/baridi
I’m hungry Ninasikia njaa
I’m thirsty Nina kiu
Is there any? Iko… or Kuna?…
Yes there is… Iko…or kuna…
No there isn’t any Hakuna
How much? Ngapi?
money Pesa
What price? Bei gani?
How much does it cost? Pesa Ngapi?
I want… Nataka
I don’t want Sitaki
Give me/Bring me (can I have?) Nipe/Niletee
Again Tena
Enough Tosha/basi
Expensive Ghali/sana
Cheap(also"easy") Rahisi
Fifty cents Sumni
Reduce the price,come down a little Punguza kidogo
Shop Duka
Bank Benki
Post office Posta
Café,restaurant Hoteli
Telephone Simu
Cigarettes Sigara
I’m ill Mimi mgonjwa
Doctor Daktari
Hospital Hospitali
Police Polisi


TRAVEL AND DIRECTIONS

Bus/es Bas,basi / mabasi
Car /s, Vehicle/ s Gari/ Magari
Taxi Teksi
Bicycle Baiskeli
Train Treni
Plane Ndege
Boat / Ship Chombo / Meli
Petrol Petroli
Road, path Njia/ ndia
Highway Barabara
On foot/ Walking Kwa miguu
When does it leave Inaondoka lini?
When will you arrive? Tutafika lini?
Slowly Polo pole
Fast, quickly Haraka
Wait! / hang on a moment! Ngoja!/ ngoja kidogo!
Stop! Simama!
Where are you going Unaenda wapi
To where? Mpaka wapi?
From where? Kutoka wapi?
How many kilometers? Kilometa ngapi?
I’m going to Naenda
Move along, squeeze up a little Songa!/ songa kidogo!
Let’s go, carry on Twende, endelea
Straight ahead Moja kwa moja
Right Kulia
Left Kushoto
Up Juu
Down Chini
I want to get off here Nataka kushuka hapa
The car has broken down Gari imearibika


TIME CALENDAR AND NUMBER

What time is it?

Saa ngapi

Four o’clock

Saa nne

Quarter past

Na robo

Half past

Na nusu

Quarter to

Kasa robo

Minutes

Dakika

Early

Mapema

Yesterday

Jana

Today

Leo

Tomorrow

Kesho

Day time

Mchana

Night time

Usiku

Dawn

Alfagiri

Morning

Asubuhi

Last/ this/ next week

Wiki iliopita/ hii/ ijayo

This year

Mwaka huu

This month

Mwezi huu

Monday

Jumatatu

Tuesday

Jumanne

Wednesday

Jumatano

Thursday

Alhamisi

Friday

Ijumaa

Saturday

Jumamosi

Sunday

Jumapili

1

Moja

2

Mbili

3

Tatu

4

Nne

5

Tano

6

Sita

7

Saba

8

Nane

9

Tisa

10

Kumi

11

Kumi na moja

12

Kumi na mbili

20

Ishirini

21

Ishirini na moja

30

Thelathini

40

Arobaini

50

Hamsini

60

Sitini

70

Sabini

80

Themanini

90

Tisini

100

Mia moja

121

Mia moja na ishirini na moja

1000

Elfu



SIGNS

Danger! Hatari!
Warning! Angalia!/ Onyo!
Fierce dog! Mbwa mkali!
No entry! Hakuna njia!


WORDS WORTH KNOWING

Good -zuri(with a prefix at the front)
Bad -baya(ditto)
Big -kubwa
Small -dogo
A lot of -ingi
Other/ Another Ingine
Not bad Si mbaya
Ok, right, fine Sawa
Fine, cool Safi
Completely Kabisa
Just, only Tu(kitanda kimoja tu-just ona bed)
Thing/ s Kitu/ vitu
Problems, hassles Wasiwasi, matata
No problem Hakuna wasiwasi/ Hakuna matata
Friend Rafiki
Sorry, pardon Samahani
It’s nothing Si kitu
Excuse me (let me through) Hebu
What’s up? Namna gani?
If God wills it Inshallah (heard often on the coast)
Please Tafadhali
Take a picture of me! Piga picha mimi!
Help the poor! Saidia maskini!
 
 

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