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Swahili (Kiswahili) Language Reference

Whilst English is widely spoken in Kenya and Tanzania it is nice to know a few words in Swahili (Kiswahili).  This reference is intended a simple guide to some common Swahili words and phrases.

Swahili is a language that may have originated thousands of years ago as a traders' language to promote international commerce.  The correct word to describe the language is actually Kiswahili.  Swahili is basically a mixture of Bantu and Arabic but there are also words in Swahili that have been derived from English, German and Portuguese.  Although it is the most widely spoken language in East Africa and an official language of Kenya and Tanzania, Swahili is not a first language for most people.  In addition to Swahili and English, most also speak one or more tribal languages.

Swahili is a relatively easy language to learn.  Every letter in a word is pronounced, and the accent is always on the second-to-the-last syllable.  For example, asante (thank you) is pronounced ‘ah-SAN-tay’. Several Swahili words begin with the letter N followed by a consonant.  The N is pronounced briefly, not as ‘Na’, but more like an abbreviated ‘in’.  Try saying ‘No’ very slowly and stop before saying the whole word.  Notice the ‘n’ sound you make, and that is the pronunciation in Swahili.  For example, ‘yes’ in Swahili is ndiyo, pronounced ‘n-DEE-o’.

Here are some common words and phrases in Swahili:

Greetings (Salamu)

Hello? - Jambo (Hujambo)?

How are you? - Habari?

I am well (good, fine) - Mzuri?

Thank you - Asante

Very much - Sana

Thank you very much - Asante sana

Goodbye - Kwaheri


Hotel - Hoteli

Room - Chumba

Bed - Kitanda

Food - Chakula

Coffee - Kahawa

Beer - Pombe

Cold - Baridi

Warm - Moto

Hot - Moto sana

Tea - Chai

Water - Maji

Meat - Nyama

Fish - Samaki

Bread - Mkate

Bad - Mbaya

Time (Saa)

Today - Leo

Tomorrow - Kesho

Now - Sawa

Quickly - Upesi

Slowly - Polepole


Hospital - Hospitali

Police - Polisi

Street/road - Barabara

Airport - Uwanja wa ndege

Shop - Duka

Money - Pesa

People (Watu)

Mister - Bwana

Mrs. - Bibi

Miss - Bi

I - Mimi

You - Wewe

He, She - Yeye

We - Sisi

They - Wao

Questions (Maswali)

What? - Nini?

Who? - Nani?

Where? (place) - Mahali gani?

Where? (direction) - Wapi?

When? - Lini?

How? - Namna gani?

Why? - Kwa nini?

Which? - Ipi?

Yes - Ndio

No - Hapana

To eat - Kula

To drink - Kunywa

To go - Kwenda

To stop - Kusimama

Numbers (Nambari)

One - Moja

Two - Mbili

Three - Tatu

Four - Nne

Five - Tano

Six - Sita

Seven - Saba

Eight - Nane

Nine - Tisa

Ten - Kumi

Common Phrases

Where is the hotel? - Hoteli iko wapi?

Good morning? - Habari ya asubuhi?

Good afternoon? - Habari ya mchana?

Good evening? - Habari ya jioni?

You’re welcome - Karibu, Una karibishwa

Where do you come from? - Umetoka wapi?

I come from... - Nimetoka...

What is your name? - Jina lako ni?

My name is... - Jina langu ni...

Can you speak Swahili? - Unaweza kuongea Kiswahili?

Only a little - Kidogo tu

Where are you going? - Unakwenda wapi?

I am going - Nakwenda

How much? - Pesa ngapi?

Wait a minute - Ngoja kidogo

Excuse me - Samahani

Where is the toilet? - Choo kiko wapi?

Where can I get a drink? - Naweza kupata kinywaji wapi?

One cup of... - Kikombe kimoja cha...