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Useful english to swahili words phrases

If you are traveling to Tanzania or East Africa, soon then you may find it helpful to know how to say hello and goodbye as well as make a few exchanges with the locals in their language. By learning some basic Swahili words and phrases, you will make a local’s day by communicating with them in a word or two that they know. While it can be a little intimidating having someone talk to you in a language that you don’t know very well, people always appreciate even the littlest effort it takes to learn some basic Swahili words and Phrases.

The official language in Tanzania is Swahili (also known as Kiswahili), which is spoken by over 90% of the population. English has official status – it is used in foreign trade, diplomacy, higher courts and partly as classroom language in secondary school and higher education. Arabic is also widespread, especially in the coastal region and in Dar es Salaam. It is also the official language on Zanzibar.

There are also more than 120 other languages and dialects, which are usually spoken regionally. Most Tanzanians first learn their local tribal language. Later, in elementary school, they learn Swahili and then English if they attend secondary school. Education in secondary schools and universities is usually in English. Overall, English is therefore quite common in Tanzania, but is spoken in particular in larger cities and in tourist areas.

The Most Useful English to Swahili Words & Phrases for Travel in East Africa

English to Swahili Introductions/Greetings & Responses
  • Jambo/Hujambo Hello   
  • Sijambo I’m fine/I am well
  • Niaji Hello (informal)
  • Mambo/Mambo vipi How are you doing/what’s up? (very informal, but used more often)
  • Poa Cool or I’m cool
  • Safi Fine
  • Freshi Fresh
  • Habari or habari yako? How are you?
  • Habari gani? What news/how are you? (common greeting)
  • Nzuri/Mzuri I’m good (In Tanzania they tend to say Nzuri and Mzuri in Kenya)
  • Nzuri/Mzuri sana Very good
  • Niko salama, asante. Na wewe? I am fine , thank you. And you?
  • Shikamoo Respectful greetings (you would use this to someone older than you ”“ children may use this towards you)
  • Marahaba Thank you for your respectful greetings (the reply to ”˜shikamo’)
  • Habari za asubuhi Good morning
  • Habari za mchana Good afternoon
  • Usiku mwema Goodnight
  • Jina lako nani? What is your name?
  • Jina langu ni or Mimi naitwa… My name is…
  • Ninafuraha kukutana nawe Nice to meet you 
  • Nafurahi kukuona I am happy to see you
  • Unatoka wapi? Where are you from?
  • Natokea… I’m from…
  • Kwaheri Goodbye
  • Tutaonana baadaye (or just badaaye) See you later
  • Tutaonana kesho See you tomorrow 
  • Tuonane kesho Let’s see each other tomorrow
  • Asante Thank you
  • Asante sana Thank you very much
  • Karibu Welcome
  • Karibu sana You are welcome
  • Karibuni Welcome (when there’s more than 1 person)
  • Lala salaama Goodnight or peaceful sleep
  • Samahani I am sorry
  • Niwie radhi Excuse me
  • Tafadhali Please (although people don’t really use please that much)
  • Pole Sorry (if someone says they are ill you would say ”˜pole’ or ‘pole sana’ to sympathize)
  • Pose sana Very sorry
  • Ndiyo/Ndio Yes
  • Hapana No
  • Sawa Ok
  • Hapana asante No thank you 
  • Sitaki I don’t need 
  • Hakuna matata No worries
  • Hamna shida No problem
  • Naelewa I understand
  • Sielewi I don’t understand
  • Naweza kuchukua picha yako? Can I take your picture?
  • Naomba kupiga picha? May I take pictures?
  • Unaongea Kiingereza?/ Unasema Kiingereza? Do you speak English?
  • Samahani, unaweza ongea Kiingereza? Excuse me, do you speak English? (formal)
  • La, siongei Kiingereza No, I don’t speak English
  • Maji Water
  • Maji ya kunywa Drinking water
  • Kahawa Coffee
  • Chai Tea
  • Bia Beer
  • Kuku Chicken
  • Nyama Meat
  • Nyama choma Roast meat
  • Vegetables Mbogo
  • Samaki Fish
  • Wali Rice
  • Supu Soup
  • Baridi Cold (useful when asking for a beer/soda/water ie. “maji baridi”)
  • Mimi ni mboga I’m a vegetarian
  • Hakuna nyama No meat
  • Hakuna maziwa No dairy
  • Hakuna gluten No gluten
  • Hakuna karanga No nuts (but just be aware that nuts are commonly used in cooking in East Africa)
  • Mimi ni mzio wa… I’m allergic to…
  • Siwezi kula… I cannot eat…
  • Duka la dawa Pharmacy
  • Duka Shop
  • Dawa Medicine
  • Kesho Tomorrow
  • Wapi? Where?
  • Liko wapi? Where is the…? (ie. Where is the pharmacy? Duka la dawa liko wapi?) 
  • Nini/Gani? What? 
  • Ipi? Which?
  • Nani? Who?
  • Naipenda I like it
  • Sipendi I don’t like it
  • Unaipenda? Do you like it? 
  • Nakupenda I love you
  • Pesa Money
  • Sina pesa I don’t have money 
  • Sasa Now
  • Kidogo A little (if people ask you if you speak Swahili, say “kidogo” or “kidogo kidogo” and you’ll get a laugh, they love it)
  • Pole pole Slowly (pronounced polay polay – useful for saying to speeding bus drivers and for keeping up morale on Kilimanjaro)
  • Poa kichizi kama ndizi Crazy cool like a banana (pronounced poa kachezi kamandeezi ”“ this makes people laugh when you say it)
  • Rafiki Friend
  • Choo Toilet
  • Safari njema Good journey

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