A Beginner’s Guide to Learning Swahili

If you are travelling to Tanzania soon then you may find it helpful to know how to say hello and goodbye as well as make a few exchanges with the locals in their language.

By learning some basic Swahili phrases, you will make a local’s day by communicating with them in a word or two that they know.

While it can be a little intimidating having someone talk to you in a language that you don’t know very well, people always appreciate even the smallest effort it takes to learn some basic communication.

To make it extra easy for you, I have compiled a list of the most common and useful phrases you might hear and need to use while on your trip (some of which I need to brush up on myself!)

English to Swahili Translation

Greetings

“Jambo” may be the most popular Swahili greeting, but there are several other ways to say hello that you are likely to hear.

Jambo? / hujambo? (how are you?) – Sijambo (I am fine)
Habari? (how are you?) – nzuri (fine)
Shikamoo (a young person greeting an elder) – Marahaba

Goodbye – Kwaheri
See you later – Tutaonana baadaye (often shortened to baadaye)

For more casual interactions among peers while walking on the streets, you might also hear some of these Swahili greetings:

Mambo – What’s up?
Vipi – How?
Sema – Speak?

The replies to these greetings can be:

Safi – Clean; fine; cool
Poa – Cool
Freshi – Fresh (Swahili slang for the English word fresh).

Saying “thank you” and other courtesies

Thank you – Asante
Thank you – Asanteni (to more than one person)

No thank you – Hapana asante
Thank you very much – Asante sana

Please – Tafadhali
Sorry – Pole
Very Sorry – Pole sana
No worries – Hakuna matata
No problem – Hamna shida
Welcome – Karibu
Welcome – Karibuni (to more than one person)
Excuse me – Samahani

What is your name? – Jina lako nani?
My name is XX – Jina langu ni XX
Nice to meet you – Ninafuraha kukutana nawe

Agreements and disagreements

Ok – Sawa
Yes – Ndiyo
No – Hapana

I understand – Naelewa
I don’t understand – Sielewi
I like it – Ninaipenda
I don’t like it – Siipendi
Do you like it? – Je unaipenda?

Pronouns 

Me – Mimi
You – Wewe
Him/Her – Yeye

Mine – Yangu
Yours – Yako
His/hers – Yake
Ours – Yetu

Questions 

What? – Nini?
Where? – Wapi?
Which? – Ipi? (or Gani?)
Who? – Nani? 

Descriptions

Big – Kubwa
Small – Kidogo
Short – Fupi
Long – Ndefu

Color – Rangi
Black – Nyeusi
Red – Nyekundu
Blue – Buluu
White – Nyeupe
Green – Kijani

Days and months

Sunday – Jumapili
Monday – Jumatatu
Tuesday – Jumanne
Wednesday – Jumatana
Thursday – Alhamisi
Friday – Ijumaa
Saturday – Jumamosi

January – Januari
February – Februari
March – Marchi
April – Aprili
May – Mei
June – Juni
July – Julai
August – Agosti
September – Septemba
October – Oktoba
November – Novemba
December – Desemba

Shopping

Store/shop – Duka
Price – Bei
Money – Pesa
Cash – Pesa taslimu
How much? – Pesa ngapi?
It is cheap – Ni bei rahisi
It is expensive – Ni bei ghali
Do you give discounts? – Je, Unapunguza bei?
Please reduce the price – Tafadhali punguza bei
How do I pay? – Ninalipaje?
I have a credit/debit card – Nina kadi

Eating out

Eat – Kula
Food – Chakula
Menu – Menyu
Bill – Bili
Hot – Moto.
Cold – Baridi.

Drinks – Vinywaji
Cold drink – Kinywaji baridi
Fruit juice – Maji ya matunda
Beer – Bia
Cold beer – Bia baridi
Tea – Chai
Coffee – Kahawa
Soup – Supu
Chicken – Kuku
Meat – Nyama
Fish – Samaki
Rice – Wali
Vegetables – Mboga
Drinking water – Maji ya kunywa
I am vegetarian – Sili nyama
It is delicious – Ni tamu sana.

Happy Holidays 

Happy birthday – Furaha ya siku ya kuzaliwa.
Merry Christmas – Krismasi njema.
Happy new year – Heri ya mwaka mpya.

So there you have it. Some basic Swahili phrases that will help you out during any visit to Tanzania. If you’d like to learn more, then I can recommend an app called Duolingo, which has just recently added Swahili to its learning courses.

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A Beginner's Guide to Learning Swahili

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1 Comment

  • Reply
    Laura Cooper
    November 14, 2017 at 10:42 am

    Hi Nikki,
    I’ve tried Duolingo but find it frustrating not knowing how the language sounds. Do you know of any websites that have the pronunciation on?

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