Swahili phrasebookUnited Republic of Tanzania, Republic of Kenya, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Uganda. Swahili speakers can also be found in surrounding countries, such as Burundi, Rwanda, and Mozambique. While Swahili is primarily spoken natively along the coast and islands of Kenya and Tanzania, it is the lingua franca across all of Tanzania, most of Kenya, eastern DRC, and some parts of Uganda, making it the most widely spoken African language in the world. As a part of the Bantu language family, Swahili is related to a variety of languages from Southern Africa to Central to West Africa. While the vast majority of Bantu languages are tonal, and a few like Xhosa and Zulu also incorporate clicks into their phonetics, Swahili does not use clicks or tones, so pronunciation is generally not difficult for English speakers.
VowelsSwahili has five vowels: a, e, i, o, u. If you are familiar with Spanish, Italian or Japanese, the vowels are pronounced the same. If not, they are pronounced:
A - ah (Like the "a" in "father")
E - eh (Like the "e" in "ten")
I - ee (Like the "ee" in "see")
O - oh (Like the "o" in "so" but without moving your mouth)
U - oo (Like the "oo" in "doom")
Vowels in Swahili always make the same sounds, even when combined with other vowels. There are no silent letters or diphthongs in Swahili, so vowels will always make the same sound, and it is important that you pronounce each vowel, even when one vowel follows another. For example, in the word "daawa" (lawsuit), you must say "dah-ah-wah", pronouncing both of the a's. Simply saying "dah-wah" (dawa) changes the meaning to "drug/medicine".
There are no diphthongs in Swahili; however, foreign names and loan words may contain them.
ConsonantsThe following consonants are pronounced the same as in English:
;b : like the "b" in "bay"
;d : like the "d" in "dog"
;f : like the "f" in "fun"
;g : like the "g" in "gut"
;h : like the "h" in "hen"
;j : like the "j" in "jam"
;k : like the "k" in "kit"
;l : like the "l" in "lump"
;p : like the "p" in "pot"
;s : like the "s" in "sun"
;t : like the "t" in "tip"
;v : like the "v" in "van"
;w : like the "w" in "win"
;y : like the "y" in "yellow"
;z : like the "z" in "zebra"
;m : like the "m" in "mop".
;n : like the "n" in "numb"
Although "m" and "n" are pronounced the same in Swahili as they are in English, unlike English, these letters can often be found at the beginning of words followed by other consonants, such as "t", "d", etc. Since Swahili has no silent letters, it is important to pronounce these sounds. So for words like "Mchana" (afternoon) and "Ndugu" (sibling/relative), you need to pronounce the "m" and "n" sounds along with the following consonant sounds.
;r : The "r" sound is rolled as it is in Spanish.
Consonant pairings;ch : like the "ch" in "chat"
;ng : like the "ng" in "sing"
;ny : like the "ni" in "onion"
;gh : officially pronounced similar to the "ch" in "loch", you can alternatively just pronounce it with a hard "g", like the "g" in "gut" (as mentioned above)
;sh : like the "sh" in "dash"
;th : like the "th" in "thank". It is never pronounced like the "th" in "those". That "th" is spelled "dh" in Swahili.
;dh : like the "th" in "the". It is important not to confuse "dh" with the Swahili "th" above. Sometimes pronounced as a "z" sound depending on the dialect.
BasicsNote that greetings in Swahili are very important and long and drawn out - you can go back and forth several times, using not one but all of the greetings you know.
; Hello (to one person) : Hujambo (response: Sijambo)
; Hello (to a group) : Hamjambo (response: Hatujambo)
; Hello to an older person or authority figure.
Shikamoo (response: Marahaba). Typically only used in traditional settings.; Hello (informal) : Mambo vipi? (How are things?)
; Response to informal hello : Mzuri (good), Safi (clean/in order), Poa (cool), Poa kichizi kama ndizi (crazy cool like a banana)
; How are you? : Habari yako? (Your news?)
; How are you? (alternative): Ukoje? (response: niko salama)
; How are you? (alternative): U hali gani? (What's your condition?)
; How are you today? : Habari za leo?
; How are you this morning? : Habari za asubuhi?
; How are you this afternoon? : Habari za mchana?
; How are you this evening? : Habari za jioni?
; How was your journey / trip / safari? : Habari za safari?
; Fine, thank you. : Nzuri, asante.
; What is your name? : Jina lako nani?
; My name is ______ . : Jina langu ______.
; Where are you from? : Unatoka wapi?
; I am from _______. : Ninatoka _______.
; Please. : Tafadhali.
; Thank you (very much). : Asante (sana).
; You're welcome. : Karibu.
; Yes. : Ndiyo.
; No. : Hapana.
; I don't need. (Polite way of saying you don't want to buy anything) : Sihitaji.
; Excuse me. (getting attention) : Samahani.
; I'm sorry (in the sense of "pardon me"; used for minor transgressions). : Samahani.
; I'm sorry (in the sense of "please forgive me for wronging you"; used for major transgressions). : Nasikitika.
; Goodbye : Kwaheri.
; Good night. : Usiku mwema.
; Sleep well. : Lala Salama.
; Did you sleep well? : Umelalaje?
Umeamkaje (lit.: did you wake up well?); See you later. : Tuonane baadaye.
; Later. : Baadaye.
; See you tomorrow. : Tutuonana kesho.
; My Swahili is terrible : Kiswahili changu ni kibaya sana.
; I can't speak Kiswahili. : Siwezi kuongea Kiswahili.
; I only speak a little Kiswahili. : Ninaongea Kiswahili kidogo tu.
; Do you speak English? : Unaongea Kiingereza?
; Bathroom : Bafu
; Toilet : Choo
; Help! : Msaada!
; Where is the _______? : _____(e.g. bathroom, police station...) iko wapi?
Grammatically, this would depend on the noun class of the object in question. E.g. for bathroom, it would be "kiko", not "iko". There are 18 noun classes in Swahili, but sticking with the root "iko" in this case should still be understood.
Problem(s); Leave me alone. : Uniache!
; Don't touch me! : Usiniguse!
; I'll call the police. : Nitaita polisi!
; Police! : Polisi!
; Stop, thief! : Simama, mwizi!
; I need your help. : Naomba msaada.
; I'm lost. : Nimepotea.
; I lost my bag. : Nimepoteza mfuko wangu.
; I lost my wallet. : Nimepoteza pochi.
; I'm sick. : Mimi ni mgonjwa.
; I've been injured. : Nimeumia
; I need a doctor. : Nahitaji daktari.
; Can I use your phone? : Naomba kutumia simu yako?
; No Problem. : Hakuna matata.
Numbers; One. : Moja
; Two. : Mbili
; Three. : Tatu
; Four. : Nne
; Five. : Tano
; Six. : Sita
; Seven. : Saba
; Eight. : Nane
; Nine. : Tisa
; Ten. : Kumi
; Eleven. : Kumi na moja ("Ten and one")
; Twenty. : Ishirini
; Thirty. : Thelathini
; Forty. : Arobaini
; Fifty. : Hamsini
; Sixty. : Sitini
; Seventy. : Sabini
; Eighty. : Themanini
; Ninety. : Tisini
; One Hundred. : Mia moja
; One Thousand. : Elfu moja
; One Hundred Thousand. : Laki moja
; One Million. : Milioni Moja
Time; now : Sasa
; later : Baadaye
; before : Kabla ya
; after : Baada ya
; morning : Asubuhi
; afternoon : Mchana
; evening : Jioni
; night : Usiku
Clock time;What time is it? : Saa ngapi?
In Swahili, counting the time does not begin from midnight and instead begins from 6:00 AM. As a result, what's literally translated as second hour (saa mbili) refers to 8:00 AM. Time is still split between twelve hour morning and night segments, so to be specific the words for morning or afternoon (asubuhi or mchana) and night (usiku) will be appended when necessary (i.e saa mbili usiku is 8:00 PM).
; : saa sita asubuhi
; : saa sita usiku
Duration; _____ minute(s) : dakika _____
; _____ hour(s) : saa (masaa) _____
; _____ day(s) : siku _____
; _____ week(s) : wiki _____
; _____ month(s) : mwezi (miezi) _____
; _____ year(s) : mwaka (miaka) _____
DaysIn Swahili, the first day of the week is Saturday. The name of Saturday combines juma (week) and mosi (one/first). You can think of it as meaning "the first of the week". The other days are the same, with the exception of Thursday and Friday, which do not follow the pattern.
;Saturday : Jumamosi
;Sunday : Jumapili
;Monday : Jumatatu
;Tuesday : Jumanne
;Wednesday : Jumatano
;Thursday : Alhamisi
;Friday : Ijumaa
Months;Month : mwezi
In Tanzania, the words in parentheses are rarely used. Instead, they refer to them as first month, second month, etc.
; January : Mwezi wa kwanza (Januari)
; February : Mwezi wa pili (Februari)
; March : Mwezi wa tatu (Machi)
; April : Mwezi wa nne (Aprili)
; May : Mwezi wa tano (Mei)
; June : Mwezi wa sita (Juni)
; July : Mwezi wa saba (Julai)
; August : Mwezi wa nane (Agosti)
; September : Mwezi wa tisa (Septemba)
; October : Mwezi wa kumi (Oktoba)
; November : Mwezi wa kumi na moja (Novemba)
; December : Mwezi wa kumi na mbili (Desemba)
SeasonsSwahili-speaking countries generally experience two seasons: rainy-and-hot and cold-and-dry. Swahili does not have words for "autumn" or "spring", etc.
;Season : majira
;summer : kiangazi
;winter : majira ya baridi
;spring : majira ya machipuko
;fall : majira ya majani kupukukika
Writing time and date
Colors; black : nyeusi
; blue : kibuluu
; brown : kahawia
; colours : rangi
; gray : kijivu
; green : kijani
; orange : machungwa
; pink : waridi
; purple : urujuani
; red : nyekundu
; white : nyeupe
; yellow : njano
Bus and train; Minibus (Kenya, Uganda) : Matatu
; Minibus (Tanzania) : Daladala
; Passenger : Abiria
; How much is a ticket to _____? : Tikiti kuenda ____ pesa ngapi?
; One ticket to _____, please. : Naomba tikiti moja kuenda ____.
; Where does this train/bus go? : Treni/basi hii inakuenda wapi?
; Does this train/bus stop in _____? : Treni/basi itakuenda ____?
; When does the train/bus for _____ leave? : Treni/basi itaondoka kwa ____ lini?
; When will this train/bus arrive in _____? : Treni/basi itafika _____ lini?
Directions; How do I get to _____ ? : Je, ninakuenda ____ ?
; I want to go to ____ : Ninataka kuenda ____
; Which direction? : Mwelekeo upi?
; ...the train station? : stesheni cha treni?
; ...the bus station? : stesheni cha basi?
; ...the airport? : uwanja wa ndege?
; ...downtown? : mjini?
; Town center : Katikati ya mjini
; ...the youth hostel? : hosteli ya vijana?
; ...the _____ hotel? : hoteli _____ ? (note "hoteli" can also refer to restaurants)
; ...the American/Canadian/Australian/British embassy? : ubalozi wa Marekani/Canada/Australia/Uingereza
; Embassy : Ubalozi
; Consulate : Balozi ndogo (but probably better to ask for "Ubalozi")
; Where are there a lot of... : Wapi kuna mengi ya ...
; ...hotels? : hoteli?
; ...restaurants? : restorenti? (also "migahawa")
; ...bars? : baa?
; ...clubs : kilabu?
; ...sites to see? : maeneo ya kuona?
; Can you show me on the map? : Unaweza nionyesha katika ramani? (Note that maps are not widely used or understood. Street names and directions are less frequently used than local landmarks, which you will need to learn for each area. Bus stations, bus stops, hotels, monuments, churches, and other establishments typically constitute recognized landmarks.)
; Where is it on the map? : Iko wapi katika ramani?
; street : streeti
; highway : barabara
; Turn left. : Pinda kushoto
; Turn right. : Pinda kulia
; left : kushoto
; right : kulia
; straight ahead : moja kwa moja
; towards the _____ : ukielekea _____
; close to _____ : karibu na _____
; past the _____ : baada ya ____/pita ya _____
; before the _____ : kabla ya _____
; Watch for the _____. : angalia kwa _____.
; intersection : kona
; north : kaskazini
; south : Kusini
; east : mashariki
; west : magharibi
; uphill : juu mlima
; downhill :chini mlima
; Take me to _____, please.
Nipeleke _____, tafadhali.; How much does it cost to get to _____? :Itakuwa pesa ngapi kuenda _____?
; Take me there, please. :Nipeleke huko, tafadhali.
Lodging; Do you have any rooms available? : Vyumba vipo?
; How much is a room for one person/two people? : Chumba cha mtu moja/watu wawili ni bei gani ?
; Does the room come with... : Chumba kina ...?
; ...bedsheets? : shuka
; ...a bathroom? : bafuni
; ...toilet? : choo
; ...shower?: bafu ya manyunyu
; ...a telephone? : simu
; ...internet? : intaneti
; ...a TV?
runinga; May I see the room first? : Naweza kukiona chumba kwanza?
; Do you have anything quieter? : Kuna nafasi kimya zaidi?
; ...bigger? : kikubwa?
; ...cleaner? : kisafi?
; ...cheaper? : bei nafuu?
; OK, I'll take it. : Sawa basi, nitakichukua.
; I will stay for _____ night(s). : nitakitumia usiku ____.
; Can you suggest another hotel? :
;Do you have a safe? (...)
; ...lockers? :
; Is breakfast/supper included?
; What time is breakfast/supper? : )
; Please clean my room. :
; Can you wake me at _____? :
; I want to check out. : Ninataka kuondoka.
Money; Do you accept American/Australian/Canadian dollars? :
; Do you accept British pounds? :
; Do you accept credit cards? :
; Can you change money? : Unaweza kubadilia pesa?
; Where can I get money changed? : Ninaweza kubadilisha pesa wapi?
; Can you change a traveler's check for me? :
; Where can I get a traveler's check changed? :
; What is the exchange rate? :
; Where is an automatic teller machine (ATM)? :
Eating; A table for one person/two people, please. : Meza kwa mtu moja/watu wawili, tafadhali.
; We are two/three/four. : Tuko wawili/watatu/wanne.
; Can I look at the menu, please? : Ninaweza kuangalia menu, tafadhali.
; Can I look in the kitchen? : Ninaweza kuona jikoni?
; Is there a house specialty? :
; Is there a local specialty? :
; I'm a vegetarian. : Mimi ni mla mboga
; Vegetarian food : Chakula mboga mboga
; I don't eat pork. : Sili nyama ya nguruwe
; I don't eat beef. : Sili nyama ya n'gombe
; I don't eat goat. : Sili nyama ya mbuzi
; I only eat kosher food. : Ninakula chakula halali tu.
; Can you make it "lite", please? (less oil/butter/lard) : Punguza mafuta/siagi/
; No bones. : Bila mafupa
; fixed-price meal :
; a la carte :
; breakfast : kifungua kinywa / chakula cha asubuhi
; lunch : chakula cha mchana
; Food : Chakula
; tea : chai
; supper : chakula cha jioni
; I want _____. : Ninataka
; I request _____. Naomba _____. (more polite than 'I want', especially in Tanzania)
; I want a dish containing _____. :
; Banana : Ndizi
; Goat : Mbuzi
; chicken : Kuku
; beef : Ng'ombe
; fish : Samaki
; ham :
; sausage :
; cheese : Jibini
; Egg/eggs : Yai/Mayai
; salad : Saladi
; (fresh) vegetables : Mboga (singular), Maboga (plural)
; Fresh : freshi
; (fresh) fruit : Mtunda (singular), Matunda (plural)
; bread : Mkate
; toast : Tosti (but there is a brand of bread called 'Tosti' so you will also find a 'Toasted toast' entry on some menus!)
; noodles/pasta : Tambi (invariably, spaghetti unless you are in a specialist restaurant)
; rice : Wali (cooked rice), Mchele (uncooked) Mpunga (rice plant)
; beans : Maharage
; May I have a glass of _____? : Ninaomba glasi moja ya ____.
; May I have a cup of _____? : Ninaomba kikombe kimoja cha ____.
; May I have a bottle of _____? : Ninaomba chupa moja ya ____.
; coffee : Kahawa (this will usually be instant coffee. It's rare to find real coffee except in specialist establishments or those frequented by tourists)
; tea (drink) : Chai
; spiced tea : Chai ya masala (tea is often spiced with masala mix or ginger
; Tea with milk : Chai ya maziwa
; Tea without milk : Chai ya rangi (literally, 'tea with color')
; juice : juisi
; (bubbly) water :
; water : Maji
; beer : Pombe, Bia (Pombe often refers to a local brew and many of these are unsafe to drink. Better to ask for a beer by brand name or ask 'Bia gani ipo?', 'What beers do you have?'
; red/white wine : Mvinyo/wini nyekundu/nyeupi
; May I have some _____? : Ninaomba
; salt : Chumvi
; black pepper : pilipili manga
; butter : Siagi (But you are likely to get margarine, at best. You will probably need to ask for margarine by a brand name, such as 'Blue Band')
; Excuse me, waiter? (getting attention of server): Samahani/ebu (the latter is less formal)
; Excuse me, waiter? (to a waiter, 'Kaka', to a waitress, 'Dada')
; I'm finished. : Nimemaliza
; It was delicious. : Chakula ni kitamu
; Please clear the plates. : Uondoe masahani tafadhali
; The check, please. : Naomba bili, tafadhali
Bars; Do you serve alcohol? : Pombe ipo?
; Is there table service? :
; A beer/two beers, please. : Bia moja/mbili, tafadhali.
; A glass of red/white wine, please. : Glasi mvinyo/wini nyekundu/nyuepi, tafadhali
; A pint, please. : (Pint measure is not used in East Africa, bottles are usually half litre, sometimes 375ml. People order by the bottle and if there are two sizes, they say 'kubwa' for large or 'ndogo' for small.
; A bottle, please. : Chupa moja, tafadhali.
; _____ (hard liquor) and _____ (mixer), please. :
; whiskey : Whiskey
; vodka : Vodka
; rum :
; water : Maji
; club soda :
; tonic water :
; orange juice : juici/maji ya machungwa
; Coke (soda) : Koka
; Do you have any bar snacks? : Snaki ipo?
; One more, please. : Moja nyingine,tafadhali
; Another round, please. :
; When is closing time? : Saa ya kufunga ni lini?
; Cheers! : Maisha marefu
Shopping; Do you have this in my size? : Kuna hii ya kunitosha?
; How much is this? : Pesa ngpai?
; That's too expensive. : Ni ghali mno.
; Would you take _____? : Utakubali-
; expensive : Ghali
; cheap : Rahisi
; I can't afford it. : Sina pesa za kutosha
; I don't want it. : Sitaki
; You're cheating me. :
; I'm not interested. :
; OK, I'll take it. : Sawa, nitachukua.
; Can I have a bag? : Nipe mfuko mmoja tafadhali.
; Do you ship (overseas)? :
; I need... : Ninahitaji
; ...toothpaste. : Dawa ya meno
; ...a toothbrush. : Mswaki
; ...tampons. :
; ...soap. : Sabuni
; ...shampoo. :shampoo ya nywele
; ...pain reliever. (e.g., aspirin or ibuprofen) : dawa ya kupambana na maumivu
; ...cold medicine. : Dawa ya mafua
; ...stomach medicine. : Dawa ya tumbo
; ...a razor. : wembe
; ...an umbrella. : Mwavuli
; ...sunblock lotion. :
; ...a postcard. :
; ...postage stamps. : stempu
; ...batteries. : makaa
; ...writing paper. : Karatasi ya kuandika
; ...a pen. : Kalamu
; ...English-language books. : Kitabu cha Kiingereza (singular) / Vitabu vya Kiingereza (plural)
; ...English-language magazines. :
; ...an English-language newspaper. : Gazeti la Kiingereza
; ...an English-English dictionary. : Kamusi ya Kiingereza
Driving; I want to rent a car. : Ninataka kukodi gari.
; Can I get insurance? : Ninaweza kupata bima?
; stop (on a street sign) : Simama
; one way :
; yield :
; no parking : Hairuhusiwi kuegesha (parking not permitted)
; speed limit :
; Slow down : Punguza mwendo
; gas (petrol) station : Stesheni/stesheni ya mafuta/stesheni ya mafuta ya gari
; petrol : Mafuta/mafuta ya gari
; diesel :
Authority; I haven't done anything wrong. : sijafanya kitu kibaya
; It was a misunderstanding. :
; Where are you taking me? :
; Am I under arrest? : Je, mimi chini ya kukamatwa?
; I am an American/Australian/British/Canadian citizen. :
; I want to talk to the American/Australian/British/Canadian embassy/consulate. :
; I want to talk to a lawyer. : nataka kuogea na wakili
; Can I just pay a fine now? :
Country and territory names;United States : Marekani
;Canada : Kanada
;Mexico : Meksiko
;Brazil : Brazil
;United Kingdom : Uingereza
;Ireland : Eire, Ayalandi
;Russia : Urusi
;France : Ufaransa
;Netherlands : Uholanzi
;Germany : Udachi, Ujerumani
;Italy : Italia
;Kenya : Kenya
;Tanzania : Tanzania
;Zanzibar (Tanzanian Island) : Unguja
;Uganda : Uganda
;Democratic Republic of the Congo : Jamhuri ya Kidemokrasia ya Kongo
;South Africa : Afrika Kusini
;Nigeria : Nijeria
;Ethiopia : Uhabeshi
;China : Uchina
;Japan : Japani
;Singapore : Singapuri
;South Korea : Korea Kusini
;India : Uhundi
;Israel : Uyahudi
;Australia : Australia
;New Zealand : Nyuzilandi
; cheetah : duma
; elephant : tembo
; giraffe : twiga
; hippo : kiboko
; leopard : chui
; lion : simba
; ostrich : mbuni
; snake : nyoka
; turtle :
; warthog : Ngiri
; zebra : punda milia