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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(rare up-country and not heard much on the coast either)

Take a picture of me!

Piga picha mimi!

Help the poor!

Saidia maskini!

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