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
Jambo or HujamboHello, good day, how are you? (multi-purpose greeting, means"problems?")
Jambo or Sijambo(the response)No problems
Habari?How are things? (literally"news?")
NzuriFine, good, terrific
Hodi!Hellow? Anyone in? (said on knocking or entering)
KaribuCome in, enter, welcome(also said on offering something)
Kwaheri/ niGoodbye to one/ many
Asante/ niThank you to one/ many
SanaVery(acommon emphasis)
BwanaMister, the equivalent of monsieur in French
MamaLike the French madame or madamoiselle, for adult women
KijanaYouth, teenager(pl,vijana)
MtotoChild, kid(pl,watoto)
Jina lako nani?What’s your name?/ What
Unaitwaje?Are you called?
Basics
My name is / I am calledJina langu ni/ Ninaitwa
Where are you from?Unatoka wapi?
Where are you staying?Unakaa wapi
I am fromNinatoka
I am staying (at / in).Ninakaa
See youTutaonana ( Lit. "We shall meet")
YesNdiyo (Lit. it is so)
NoHapana
I don’t understandSifahamu / Sielewi
I don’t speak Swahili butSisemi Kiswahili, lakini
How do you say in Swahili?Unasemaje na Kiswahili
Could you repeat that?Sema tena (Lit. speak again)
Speak slowlySema pole pole
I don’t knowSijui
Where?Wapi?
HereHapa
When?Lini?
NowSasa
SoonSasa hivi
Why?Kwa nini?
BecauseKwa sababu
Who?Nani?
What?Nini?
Which?Gani?
Truekweli
And/withna
Orau
(It) is (they) areNi (a useful connector Ni (a useful connector when you

Ni(a useful connector when you
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/sChumba/vyumba
Bed/sKitanda/vitanda
Chair/sKiti/viti
Table/sMeza
Toilet, bathroomChoo, bafu
Washing waterMaji ya kuosha
Hot/cold waterMaji moto/baridi
I’m hungryNinasikia njaa
I’m thirstyNina kiu
Is there any?Iko… or Kuna?…
Yes there is…Iko…or kuna…
No there isn’t anyHakuna
How much?Ngapi?
moneyPesa
What price?Bei gani?
How much does it cost?Pesa Ngapi?
I want…Nataka
I don’t wantSitaki
Give me/Bring me (can I have?)Nipe/Niletee
AgainTena
EnoughTosha/basi
ExpensiveGhali/sana
Cheap (also"easy")Rahisi
Fifty centsSumni
Reduce the price,come down a littlePunguza kidogo
ShopDuka
BankBenki
Post officePosta
Café,restaurantHoteli
TelephoneSimu
CigarettesSigara
I’m illMimi mgonjwa
DoctorDaktari
HospitalHospitali
PolicePolisi
Travel And Directions
Bus/esBas,basi / mabasi
Car /s, Vehicle/ sGari/ Magari
TaxiTeksi
BicycleBaiskeli
TrainTreni
PlaneNdege
Boat / ShipChombo / Meli
PetrolPetroli
Road, pathNjia/ ndia
HighwayBarabara
On foot/ WalkingKwa miguu
When does it leaveInaondoka lini?
When will we arrive?Tutafika lini?
SlowlyPole pole
Fast, quicklyHaraka
Wait! / hang on a moment!Ngoja!/ ngoja kidogo!
Stop!Simama!
Where are you goingUnaenda wapi
To where?Mpaka wapi?
From where?Kutoka wapi?
How many kilometers?Kilometa ngapi?
I’m going toNaenda
Move along, squeeze up a littleSonga!/ songa kidogo!
Let’s go, carry on Twende, endelea
Straight aheadMoja kwa moja
RightKulia
LeftKushoto
UpJuu
DownChini
I want to get off hereNataka kushuka hapa
The car has broken downGari imearibika
Time Calendar And Number
What time is it?Saa ngapi
Four o’clockSaa kumi
Quarter pastNa robo
Half pastNa nusu
Quarter toKaso robo
MinutesDakika
EarlyMapema
YesterdayJana
TodayLeo
TomorrowKesho
Day timeMchana
Night timeUsiku
DawnAlfajiri
MorningAsubuhi
Last/ this/ next weekWiki iliopita/ hii/ ijayo
This yearMwaka huu
This monthMwezi huu
MondayJumatatu
TuesdayJumanne
WednesdayJumatano
ThursdayAlhamisi
FridayIjumaa
SaturdayJumamosi
SundayJumapili
1Moja
2Mbili
3Tatu
4Nne
5Tano
6Sita
7Saba
8Nane
9Tisa
10kumi
11Kumi na moja
12Kumi na mbili
20Ishirini
21Ishirini na moja
30Thelathini
40Arobaini
50Hamsini
60Sitini
70Sabini
80Themanini
90Tisini
100Mia moja
121Mia moja na ishirini na moja
1000Elfu
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/ AnotherIngine
Not badSi mbaya
Ok, right, fineSawa
Fine, coolSafi
CompletelyKabisa
Just, onlyTu (kitanda kimoja tu-just ona bed)
Thing/ sKitu/ vitu
Problems, hasslesWasiwasi, matata
No problemHakuna wasiwasi/ Hakuna matata
FriendRafiki
Sorry, pardonSamahani
It’s nothingSi kitu
Excuse me (let me through)Hebu
What’s up?Namna gani?
If God wills itInshallah (heard often on the coast)
PleaseTafadhali
Take a picture of me!Piga picha mimi!
Help the poor!Saidia maskini!