Swahili | Travel advice from Adventure Alternative

Traveler's Basic Swahili

Kenya has a rich diversity of tribes, each with their own cultural differences and traditions. They also have their own languages or dialects. However the languages that are adopted as the universal languages for schooling across the country are English and Swahili. Swahili is a Bantu language with some Arabic roots and is widely spoken across Africa, usually as an official though second language.

Perhaps the passages of Swahili that will most stick in your head after your trip to Kenya will be contained in the lines of a song that is hugely popular with Kenyan children. If you spend any time at all at the schools or orphanages then this song will inevitably crop up. It just so happens that the words and phrases that it contains are also useful so perhaps this may be a good introduction to the language:-

Jambo,
Jambo Bwana,
Habari gani,
Mzuri sana,
Wageni,
Wakaribishwa,
Kenya yetu
Hakuna Matata

Which roughly translates to:-

Hello,
Hello Sir,
How are you,
Very fine
Visitors
You're welcome
In our Kenya
No worries!

Further useful vocabulary can be found below:


Greetings
•    Hello, how are you?  - Jambo / Habari yako ?
•    Am fine - Mzuri
•    Goodbye - Kwa heri
•    Nice to meet you = Nafurahi kukuona
•    Goodnight = Lala salama

Daily Communication
•    Yes - Ndio
•    No - Hapana /La
•    Thank you - Asante
•    Thank you very much - Asante sana
•    Please - Tafadhali
•    OK - Sawa
•    Excuse me - Samahani
•    You're Welcome - Karibu  
•    Can you help me? - Nisaidie Tafadhali
•    What is your name? - Jina lako ni?
•    My name is Tom - Jina langu ni  Tom...
•    Where are you from? - Unatoka wapi?
•    I'm from London.. - Nimetoka London...
•    May I take a picture? - Naweza piga picha
•    Do you speak English? -Unaongea Kizungu?
•    Just a little bit - Kidogo tu!
•    How do you say Hallo in Swahili? = Unasemaje Hallo kwa Kiswahili
•    I don't understand - Sielewi
•    Friend of mine -Rafiki yangu
•    Me - Mimi
•    You -wewe
•    I am - Mimi ni
•    Let’s go - Twende

Moving around...

Where is the ... - wapi ...
•    Road - barabara
•    Market -soko
•    Toilet/bathroom - choo
•    Plane - ndege
•    Is there a bus going to Nairobi...? - Kuna basi ya kuenda Nairobi..?
•    Is it far - Ni mbali
•    Over there - pale
•    Ticket - tikiti
•    Where are you going? - Unaenda wapi?
•    How much is it? -Ni pesa ngapi?
•    Hotel - hoteli
•    Room - chumba
•    Are there any vacancies for tonight? -Kuna nafasi leo usiko?
•    No vacancies - Hakuna nafasi
•    How much is it per night? - ni bei gani/pesa ngapi kwa usiku?

Time and Days
•    What is the time - ni saa ngapi?
•    Today - leo
•    Tomorrow - kesho
•    Yesterday -  jana
•    Now -  sasa
•    Later - baadaye
•    Every day - kila siku
•    Monday - Jumatatu
•    Tuesday - Jumanne
•    Wednesday - Jumatano
•    Thursday - Alhamisi
•    Friday - Ijumaa
•    Saturday - Jumamosi
•    Sunday - Jumapili

Counting and Numbers

1- moja
•    2 - mbili
•    3 - tatu
•    4 - nne
•    5 - tano
•    6 - sita
•    7 - saba
•    8 - nane
•    9 - tisa
•    10 - kumi
•    11 - kumi na moja (ten and one)
•    12 -kumi na mbili (ten and two)
•    20 - ishirini
•    21 - ishirni na moja (twenty and one)
•    30 - thelathini
•    40 - arobaini
•    50 - hamsini
•    60 - sitini
•    70 - sabini
•    80 - themanini
•    90 - tisini
•    100 - mia
•    200 -mia mbili
•    1000 - elfu
•    100,000 -laki moja
•    200,000 -laki mbili….

Dining

Food and Drinks
•    Food - chakula
•    Hot - moto
•    Cold - baridi
•    Water - maji
•    Hot water - maji moto
•    Cold water - maji baridi
•    Drinking water - maji ya kunywa
•    Soda (soft drinks) - soda
•    Beer - bia
•    Milk - maziwa
•    Meat - nyama
•    Chicken - kuku
•    Fish - samaki
•    Beef - nyama ya ng'ombe
•    Fruit - matunda
•    Vegetables - mboga

Health Matters
•    Doctor = daktari
•    Hospital = hospitali
•    I'm sick = mimi ni mgonjwa
•    I need a doctor = nataka kuona daktari
•    It hurts here = naumwa hapa ( hapa –point at where the pain is)
•    Fever = homa
•    Malaria = malaria
•    I have a headache = naumwa na kichwa
•    I have diarrhoea = nahara/ naendesha
•    Vomiting = tapika
•    Medicine = dawa

Animals
•    Animal = mnyama  (wanyama – plural)
•    Buffalo = Nyati / Mbogo
•    Cheetah = Duma / Chita
•    Elephant = Tembo / Ndovu
•    Giraffe = Twiga
•    Hippo = Kiboko
•    Hyena = Fisi
•    Leopard = Chui
•    Lion = Simba
•    Rhino = Kifaru
•    Warthog = Ngiri
•    Wildebeest = Nyumbu
•    Zebra = Punda milia

Sheng (or slang), a popular mixture of English, Swahili and local dialects is and commonly spoken especially among the youth in Kenya. There are thousands upon thousands of sheng words   and they keep evolving - with new words coming up all the time. Not of all of them can be listed but here are some common sheng words to get you by:
•    Sasa /Niaje– Hi
•    Fit/Poa – Hi (response)
•    Sonko – Rich ( person)
•    Ndai – Car
•    Mathree – Matatu
•    Msupa/Mresh –beautiful (girl)
•    Mbao/Blue – twenty shillings
•    Ashu – 10 shillings
•    Finje – Fifty shillings
•    Ishia – go ( naishia – am going/Tuishie – lets go..)
•    Ubao – hunger/hungry
•    Naskia ubao – am hungry
•    Jipange – get organized
•    Keroro – beer
•    Majuu – abroad/overseas
•    Wasee – people ( addressing them, calling for attention)
•    Zi – No
•    Chali – man/guy
•    Dame/dem – girl/lady
•    Doe /Ganji– money/cash
•    Mbuyu – father
•    Masa – Mother
•    Chizi – crazy/ Fala – stupid/fool
•    Mjaka – A Luo
•    Msapere – A Kikuyu
•    Sosi/Manga – eat
•    Ocha /shagz– up country
•    Rada – alert (kaa rada – be careful /on the lookout)
•    Tenje – Radio
•    Karao – police
•    Bonga – talk/chat
•    Mada – finish ( doing something)
•    Msoto – to be broke