|How are you?||=||Habari?|
|(very) Fine||=||Nzuri (sana)|
|Thanks (very much)||=||Ahsante (sana)|
|No problem||=||Hakuna matata|
Swahili is the most extensively spoken language in sub-Saharan Africa and is used in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda as well as certain parts of Zambia, Rwanda, Burundi, Malawi and Mozambique. Swahili is an amalgamation of Arabic and several Bantu languages, and is thought to be derived from Arabic for the word ‘coast’. Moreover, it has its roots in Zanzibar, historically the largest Arabic settlement on the East African coast. As such, the purest Swahili is said to be spoken in Zanzibar, and there is a well-known Institute of Swahili studies on Zanzibar island.
If you simply want to be understood, then a quick glance at the translations on the right of this page will furnish you with a simplified vocabulary.
With Swahili, every conversation should start with a greeting. Before asking the price of something or order a soda, it is polite to say “Jambo” (Hello) to the sales clerk or waiter. The answer to this is also “Jambo”.
Ask “Habari?” (How are you?) and the answer is “Nzuri” (Good). If things are particularly good, then the answer might be “Nzuri sana” (Very good).
When you enter a house or shop, someone will say “Karibu” (Welcome/Come closer). The answer is “Ahsante” (Thank you).
“Bwana” (Mister/Sir) and “Mama” (Mrs/Ma’am) are constantly used honorifics. Don’t make the ethnocentric mistake of thinking that these titles are reserved for tourists – they are used by and for everyone, and thus very useful.
When you leave somewhere, people will often say “Kwaheri” (Good-bye). The answer is simple – “Ahsante. Kwaheri” (Thanks. Good-bye).
For those who want to learn Kiswahili from the Professionals, please contact:
The Institute of Kiswahili and Foreign Languages:
PO Box 882, Zanzibar, Tanzania
Tel: + 255 24 2230724/2233337