Swahili for Travellers
Kenya Cultural Safari Guide

© Maasai safari guides

"Jambo" is probably the first Swahili word travellers learn when they arrive in Kenya. The local people greatly appreciate any efforts to speak their language, so a little knowledge goes a long way when visiting this exciting country.

The East Coast of Africa has a fascinating history of cultural interaction over a number of centuries. Arab merchants came and went on their ships, spices and other goods were traded and many foreigners married into local tribes. A form of communication was needed between tribes, traders and settlers, and Swahili, which has roots in Bantu and Arabic dialects, evolved to become the dominant language.

Today, Swahili is the national language of Kenya and it is also widely spoken in a number of other African countries. The most original form of Swahili is still spoken along the Kenyan coast especially in Zanzibar. The further inland you travel the more diverse the language becomes.

Many Kenyans are actually tri-lingual, they speak a local dialect at home, Swahili in general communication and English when doing business.


Here is a guideline for everyday words and phrases:

Greetings and Manners

Hello - Jambo

Goodbye - Kwaheri (one person) / ni Kwaheri (to more than one person)

Good morning - Harbari sa asubuhi

How are you? - Habari?

Thank you - Asante (one person) / ni (to more than one person)

Welcome / Come in - Karibu

I'm from... - Natoka

Excuse me - Samahani

Please - Tafadhali

Okay - Sawa sawa

Yes - Ndiyo

No - Hapana

Friend - Rafiki

My name is... - Jina langu ni

Common Questions and Getting Around

Where are the toilets? - Wapi choo?

I don't understand - Sifahamu / Sielewi

Where? - Wapi?

When? - Lini?

Now - Sasa

Soon - Sasa hivi

Not yet - Bado

Today - Leo

Tonight - Usiku

Tomorrow - Kesha

Yesterday - Jana

Morning - Asubuhi

Afternoon - Alasiri

Quick - Upesi

Slow - Pole-pole

I am staying at or in... - Ninakaa

Food Related

I'm hungry - Nina njaa / I'm thirsty - Nina kiu

I want - Nataka

Food - Chakula

Hot (as in spicy) - Kali

Meat - Nyama

Beef - Ng'onbei / Chicken - Kukui / Fish - Samaki / Eggs - Mayai

Fruit - Matunda / Rice - Wali / Vegetables - Mboga / Salt - Chumvi

Water - Maji / Tea - Chai / Coffee - Kahawa

Milk - Maziwa / Sugar - Sukari / With - Na / Without - Bila

Cold beer - Bia baridi

Good - Mzuri

Bad - Mbaya

Facilities and Shopping Phrases

Chemist - Duka la dawa

Shop - Duka

Telephone - Simu

Post office - Posta

Hotel - Hoteli

Bank - Benki / Money - Pesa

How much or many - Ngapi?

What price? - Bei gani?

Expensive - Ghali

Reduce the price - Punguza kidogo

I'm just looking - Mimi na angalia tu

I don't want - Sitaki

Numbers

0 = Sifuri / 1 = Moja / 2 = Mbili / 3 = Tatu / 4 = Nne or N-nay / 5 = Tano

6 = Sita / 7 = Saba / 8 = Nane / 9 = Tisa / 10 = Kumi / 11 = Kumi na moja
20 = Ishirini / 30 = Thelathini / 40 = Arobaini / 50 = Hamsini / 60 = Sitini
70 = Sabini / 80 = Themanini / 90 =Tisini / 100 = Mia / 101 = Mia na moja
200 = Mia mbili /1000 = Elfu moja
1/4 = Robo
1/2 = Nusu

Warnings and Emergencies

Stop thief! - Mwizi

Leave me alone! - Niache!

Call the police - Ita polisi

Danger - Hatari!

Help! - Nisaidia!

Fetch a doctor - Ita daktari


by Heather Willowmore

South and East African Safaris
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