Important and Basic Swahili Words and Meanings for Travelers

Important and Basic Swahili Words and Meanings for Travelers

Travelers to East Africa Will Find These Swahili Language Basics and Phrases Useful.

If you’re planning a trip to East Africa, you might want to brush up on your Swahili. In both a one-time trip and a long-term volunteer position, the ability to speak the native language of the people you meet helps to bridge the cultural gap. You’ll find that people are more helpful and friendly wherever you go if you learn a few basic phrases.

What Does the Word Swahili Mean?

The word Swahili refers to both a language and an ethnic group in East Africa. 

Swahili includes words borrowed from which language? Arabic has greatly influenced Swahili. There are multiple loanwords in the language, including the word Swahili.

What does the word Swahili mean in Arabic? The word “Swahili” comes from the Arabic word “sahil,” which means “coast” or “border.

What two meanings developed for the word Swahili? Swahili means the unique African culture and the language of the African people.

Who are Those Speaking Swahili?

Most East Africans speak Swahili, the most widely spoken language in Sub-Saharan Africa, albeit it is not always the first language for some. Kenya and Tanzania have adopted Swahili as an official language and English, and primary school students are often taught in Swahili. Although Swahili is widely spoken within Kampala, the capital of Uganda, few people outside the city seldom speak it. The official language of the Comoros Islands is often referred to as a variety of Swahili.

When visiting Rwanda or Burundi, it’s best to speak French, but a few words and phrases here and there will go a long way. Swahili is also spoken in Malawi, Zambia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, and Mozambique. Sixteen million people in Africa speak Swahili dialects as their first language, whereas 82 million people speak it as a second language, according to Ethnologue’s 2019 edition. Swahili is now the 14th most commonly spoken language in the world.

The Origins of Swahili Speaking People

An earlier form of Swahili predated Arab and Persian commerce on the East African coast between 500 and 1000 AD. The term “the coast” in Swahili came from Arabic and was only afterward given specifically to East African coastal culture. Kiswahili is the correct word for the Swahili language, and persons who speak Kiswahili as their first language call themselves Waswahilis. However, Swahili has taken terminology from English, German, and Portuguese despite its roots in Arabic and African languages.

Teaching in the Swahili Language

Swahili is a simple language to pick up because words are pronounced in the same order as they are written. Some nice online resources are available to learn more than the basic Swahili phrases documented here. Check out the Kamusi Project, a free Swahili-English dictionary app for Android and iOS that includes a pronunciation guide. On the other hand, Swahili Language and Culture provide a CD-based self-paced study in Swahili.

It’s also good to tune in to in-language broadcasts from sources like BBC Radio Swahili or Voice of America Swahili. Before visiting East Africa, enroll in a language school course to acquire Swahili. Most major cities in Kenya and Tanzania have them, so check with your local tourist information center, embassy, or hotelier for further information. Regardless of how much time and effort you put into learning Swahili, you’ll likely forget all you’ve learned the moment you need to converse.

Words in Swahili

Some Essential Swahili words and Their Meanings

Check out these list of Swahili words and meanings in English:

African Swahili Words For Simple Greetings:

  1. Salutations; lets say “Hello”: You can say “jambo/ hujambo or salama”.
  2. For questions like “How do you do?”: You can say “habari gani”
  3. And the response is “nzuri,” which means “fine.”
  4. For “Goodbye,” you say kwa heri or “kwa herini” when saying it to more people.
  5. For “See you later,”: you say “tutaonana.”
  6. For “Nice to meet you,”: you say “nafurahi kukuona.”
  7. To say “Goodnight,”: Its “lala salama.”

For Simple Courtesies Like:

  1. You say “ndiyo,” instead of “Yes.”
  2. You say “hapana,” instead of “No.”
  3. You say “asante,” instead of “Thank you.”
  4. You say “asante sana,” instead of “Thank you very much.”
  5. You say “tafadhali,” instead of “Please.”
  6. You say “sawa,” instead of “OK.”
  7. You say “samahani,” instead of “Excuse me.”
  8. You say “starehe,” instead of “You’re welcome.”
  9. You say “hapana,” instead of “No.”
  10. You say “tafadhali, naomba msaada” instead of “Can you help me?”
  11. You say “jina lako nani,” instead of “What is your name?”
  12. You reply with “jina langu ni,” instead of “My name is.”
  13. You say “unatoka wapi,” instead of “Where are you from.”
  14. You reply with “natokea,” instead of “I’m from.”
  15. You say “naomba kupiga picha,” instead of “May I take a picture?”
  16. You say “unasema kiigereza,” instead of “Do you speak English?”
  17. You say “unasema Kiswahili,” instead of “Do you speak Swahili?”
  18. You say “kidogo tu,” instead of “Just a little bit.”
  19. You say “unasemaje…Kwa Kiswahili,” instead of “How do you say…in Swahili?”
  20. You say “sielewi,” instead of “I don’t understand.”
  21. You say “rafiki,” instead of “Friend.”

English Swahili Words for How to Get Around Searching for Locations

The questions are:

  1. “ni wapi______?” instead of “Where is the______?”
  2. “uwanja wa ndege” instead of “Airport.
  3. “stesheni ya basi” instead of Bus station.” 
  4. “bas stendi” instead of Bus stop.” 
  5. “stendi ya teksi” instead of Taxi stand.” 
  6. “stesheni ya treni” instead of Train Station.” 
  7. “benki” instead of “Bank.”
  8. “soko” instead of “Market.”
  9. “kituo cha polisi” instead of “Police station.”
  10. “posta” instead of Post office.” 
  11. “ofisi ya watali” instead of “Tourist office.”
  12. “choo” instead of “Toilet or Bathroom.”
  13. “inaondoka saa________ngapi?” instead of “What time is the______ leaving?”
  14. “basi” instead of “Bus.” 
  15. In Tanzania: “dalla dalla” and known in Kenya as “matatu” instead of “Minibus.”
  16. “ndege” instead of “Plane.”
  17. “gari la moshi or treni” instead of “Train.”
  18. “kuna basi ya______?” instead of “Is there a bus going to______?”
  19. “nataka kununua tikiti” instead of “I’d like to buy a ticket.”
  20. “ni karibu” instead of “Is it near?”
  21. “ni mbali” instead of “Is it far?”
  22. “huko” instead of “There.”
  23. “pale” instead of “Over there.”
  24. “tikiti” instead of “Ticket.”
  25. “unakwenda wapi?” instead of “Where are you going?”
  26. “nauli ni kiasi gani?” instead of “How much is the fare?”
  27. “hoteli” instead of “Hotel.”
  28. “chumba” instead of “Room.”
  29. “akiba” instead of “Reservation.”
  30. In Tanzania: “mna nafasi leo usiko?” and known in Kenya as “iko nafasi leo usiku?” instead of “Are there any vacancies for tonight?”
  31. In Tanzania: “hamna nafasi.” and known in Kenya as “hakuna nafasi.” instead of “No vacancies.”
  32. And lastly, you say “ni bei gani kwa usiku?” instead of “How do you charge per a night?”

Swahili language words for Moments, Days of the Weeks, and Numerical Values

  1. “leo” is translated as Today.
  2. “kesho” is translated as Tomorrow.
  3. “jana” is translated as Yesterday.
  4. “sasa” is translated as Now.
  5. “baadaye” is translated as Later.
  6. “kila siku” is translated as Every day.
  7. “Jumatatu” is translated as Monday.
  8. “Jumanne” is translated as Tuesday.
  9. “Jumatano” is translated as Wednesday.
  10. “Alhamisi” is translated as Thursday.
  11. “Ljumaa” is translated as Friday.
  12. “Jumamosi” is translated as Saturday.
  13. “Jumapili” is translated as Sunday.
  14. For One: you say “moja.”
  15. For Two: you say “mbili.”
  16. For Three: you say “tatu.”
  17. For Four: you say “nne.”
  18. For Five: you say “tano.”
  19. For Six: you say “sita.”
  20. For Seven: you say “saba.”
  21. For Eight: you say “nane.”
  22. For Nine: you say “tisa.”
  23. For Ten: you say “kumi.”
  24. For Eleven or ten and one: you say “kumi na moja.”
  25. For Twelve or ten and two: you say “kumi na mbili.”
  26. For Twenty: you say “ishirini.”
  27. For Twenty-One or twenty and One: you say “ishirni na moja.”
  28. For Thirty: you say “thelathini.”
  29. For Forty: you say “arobaini.”
  30. For Fifty: you say “hamsini.”
  31. For Sixty: you say “sitini.”
  32. For Seventy: you say “sabini.”
  33. For Eighty: you say “themanini.”
  34. For Ninety: you say “tisini.”
  35. For One Hundred: you say “mia.”
  36. For Two Hundred: you say “mia mbili.”
  37. For One Thousand: you say “elfu.”
  38. For One Hundred Thousand: you say “laki.”

Swahili Words Requesting Items of Food and Drink

  1. To say: I’d like_______________.  You say: “nataka______________.
  2. “chakula” for Food.
  3. “ya moto or baridi” for Hot or cold.
  4. “maji” for Water.
  5. “maji ya moto” for Hot water.
  6. “maji ya kunywa” for Drinking water.
  7. “soda” for Soda.
  8. “bia” for Beer.
  9. “maziwa” for Milk.
  10. “nyama” for Meat.
  11. “nyama kuku” for Chicken.
  12. “sumaki” for Fish.
  13. “nyama ng’ombe” for Beef.
  14. “matunda” for Fruit.
  15. “mboga” for Vegetables.

Asking for Health-Related Issues

  1. Translated in Swahili as “naweza kupata___________wapi?” The question is: “Where can I find a______________?”
  2. “daktari or mganga” for Doctor.
  3. “hospitali” for Hospital.
  4. “matibabu” for Medical center.
  5. “mimi ni mgonjwa” for I’m sick.
  6. “nataka kuona daktari” for I need a doctor.
  7. “naumwa hapa” for It hurts here.
  8. “homa” for Fever.
  9. “melaria” for Malaria.
  10. “chandalua” for a Mosquito net.
  11. “umwa kichwa” for Headache.
  12. “harisha or endesha” for Diarrhoea.
  13. “tapika” for Vomiting.
  14. “dawa” for Medicine.

Names of Animals in Swahili

  1. “wanyama” for Animal.
  2. “nyati or mbogo” for Buffalo.
  3. “duma or chita” for Cheetah.
  4. “n’gombe” for Cow.
  5. “tembo or ndovuh” for Elephant.
  6. “twiga” for Giraffe.
  7. “mbuzi” for Goat.
  8. “kiboko” for Hippo.
  9. “fisi” for Hyena.
  10. “chui” for Leopard.
  11. “kifaru” for Rhino.
  12. “ngiri” for Warthog.
  13. “nyumbu” for Wildebeest.
  14. “punda milia” for Zebra.

Other English Words in Swahili:

  1. The Swahili word for freedom is “uhuru” 
  2. The swahili word for love is “upendo”
  3. The swahili word for warrior is “shujaa”
  4. The swahili word for strength is “nguvu”
  5. The swahili word for king is “Mfalme”
  6. The swahili word for queen is “malkia”
  7. The swahili word for success is “mafanikio”
  8. The swahili word for excellence is “ubora”
  9. The swahili word for peace is “Amani”
  10. The swahili word for lion is “simba”
  11. The swahili word meaning to build is “kujenga”
  12. Word in Swahili is “neno”

More Words in Swahili and The Meaning

Beautiful Swahili Words and Meanings

  1. “Jameela” means beautiful
  2. “Jabali” means strong as a rock
  3. “Upepo” means breeze
  4. “Dua” means prayer
  5. “Amani” means peace and tranquillity
  6. “Wapendeza” means you look lovely
  7. “Tuko pamoja” means we are together

Powerful Swahili Words

  1. “Atu” means powerful
  2. “Ike” means power
  3. “Kani” means strength
  4. “Imekubaliwa” means accepted
  5. “Timiza” means accomplish
  6. “Kubali” means agree
  7. “Jasiri” means brave
  8. “Mizani” means balance
  9. “Imran” means prosperity

Inspiring Swahili Words and Phrases

  1. “Subira ina Malipo” means patience pays
  2. “Pendo ni kitu cha hiari” means love is out of choice
  3. “Huba inaondoa unyonge” means love removes misery.
  4. Mungu akupe kheri daima” means God bless you always

Arabic Swahili Words

Since Swahili was majorly inspired by Arabic, there are multiple Arabic words in Swahili.

Here are some Arabic and Swahili similar words

  1. Salaam in Arabic means peace and salamu in Swahili means the same.
  2. Shukran in Arabic means thank you and shukrani in Swahili means the same.
  3. Habibi in Arabic means my beloved and habibi in Swahili means the same.
  4. Kitab in Arabic means book and kitabu in Swahili means the same.
  5. Sahaba in Arabic means companions and sahaba in Swahili means the same.
  6. Dunia in Arabic means world and dunia in Swahili means the same.
  7. Saa in Arabic means hour and saa in Swahili means the same.
  8. Asante in Arabic means thank you and asante in Swahili means the same.
The Lion King
The Lion King

Swahili Words in the Lion King

The Lion King is a popular animated movie that takes place in Africa, and many of its characters and elements are inspired by Swahili culture and language. Here are some Swahili words in Lion King:

  • Simba – This is the name of the main character, which means “lion” in Swahili.
  • Rafiki – This is the name of Simba’s friend, which means “friend” in Swahili.
  • Hakuna Matata – This is a popular phrase in the movie that means “no worries” in Swahili.
  • Pumbaa – This is the name of the warthog in the movie, which means “simpleton” in Swahili.
  • Timon – This is the name of the meerkat in the movie, which is not a Swahili word but is a common name in the region.
  • Nala – This is the name of Simba’s friend and love interest, which means “successful” in Swahili.
  • Sarabi – This is the name of Simba’s mother, which means “mirage” in Swahili.
  • Mufasa – This is the name of Simba’s father, which is not a Swahili word but is an African name that means “king” in the Manazoto language.

These Swahili words Lion King add an authentic African feel to the movie and help to create a rich and immersive world for the audience.

NYT Crossword Clue

Did you know that the swahili word meaning freedom appeared in the NYT crossword in August 2022?

Read the Swahili word meaning freedom nyt crossword clue!

Check out the answers for the swahili word for freedom crossword here:

Swahili Words Resources

For more resources to learn words and phrases in Swahili language, check out these resources:

For more articles related to Tanzania Swahili language click here!

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