Basic Swahili Words and Phrases

 Kiswahili For Travellers Who Want to Impress Locals!

With basic Swahili one comes long way!

Swahili is a Bantu language and the most widely spoken African language. It is the national and official language of Tanzania and Kenya. It can be also found in all the neighbouring countries towards the West, the South and on islands of the coastline of Eastern Africa (see map below).

The language belongs to the Bantu group of Niger-Congo language family. There are many dialects of Swahili, but the standard Swahili has been taken after the dialect in Zanzibar town.


swahili for travel

Swahili in its own language is actually called Kiswahili. Swahili has a very unique language structure, but is not difficult to learn.

Although most Kenyans and Tanzanians speak English (especially young people and those ones living in bigger and touristy places), it is always good to know few basic phrases in local language. I do bet that you already know at least one: HAKUNA MATATA, so hakuna matata with learning Swahili!

Swahili For Travelers – Greetings in Swahili

There are (too) many greetings in Swahili since they are very important. The most often greetings are JUMBO and MAMBO, but are only used for tourists. Answer to jumbo is jumbo and answer to mambo is POA. Similar greeting is HUJAMBO, you answer with SIJAMBO (both singular).

You can also greet someone with HABARI, answer is NZURI. SHIKAMOO is a greeting for older people and the answer to it would be MARAHABA. When leaving, one would usually use KWAHERI.

Quick Swahili  Dictionary

Below  are useful Swahili  words and phrases, much useful for everyday communication with locals while traveling among Swahili speaking countries.

Swahili Translation
Jumbo (answer Jumbo) Hello/How are you? (lit. thing)
Mambo (answer Poa) Hello/How are you? (lit. things)
Hujambo (answer Sijambo) Hello/How are you? (lit. Do you have any problems?)
Habari Hello/How are you? (lit. news)
Nzuri Good
Asante (sana)                            Thank you (very much)
Na wewe? And you?
Karibu (You are) welcome
Unasema Kiingereza/Kijerumani/Kifaransa? Do you speak English/German/French?
Ndiyo Yes
Hapana No
Kidogo A little bit
Naelewa. I understand.
Sielewi. I don’t understand.
Tafadhali Please
Kwaheri Good bye
Usiku mwema Good night
Ni bei gani? How much is it?
Jina lako ni nani? What is your name?
Jina langu ni _______. My name is _______.
Mimi ni _______. I am ______.
Safi/sawa Good/O.K.
Umetoka wapi? Where are you from?
Nimetoka ________. I am from _______.
Usiku mwema Good night
Lala salama Sleep well
Safari njema Safe journey
Tuonane baadaye See you later
Nani? Who?
Nini? What?
Wapi? Where?
Kwa nini? Why?
Ngapi? How much?
Saa ngapi? When?
Jana Yesterday
Leo Today
Kesho Tomorrow
Naenda Nairobi. I am going to Nairobi.
Ni bei gani kwenda…? How much is it to…?
Tafadhali niendeshe mpaka… Please take me to…
Ni umbali gani? How far is it?
Nifikaje? How do I get there?
Nataka tiketi moja kwenda Nairobi. I would like one ticket to Nairobi.
Nakaa Hotel Simba. I am staying at Hotel Simba.
Hospitali hapo karibuni iko wapi? Where is the nearest hospital?
Inauma hapa. It hurts here.
Moja One
Mbili Two
Tatu Three
Nne Four
Tano Five
Sita Six
Saba Seven
Nane Eight
Tisa Nine
Kumi Ten
Kumi na moja Eleven
Kumi na mbili Twelwe
Ishirini Twenty
Thelathini Thirty
Arobaini Forty
Hamsini Fifty
Sitini Sixty
Sabini Seventy
Themanini Eighty
Tisini Ninety
Mia moja One hundred
Elfu moja One thousand