Useful Phrases

These are random bits of Swahili I picked up while in Africa.

In the streets, you'll be offered a Swahili phrase book by Aime F Lacasse. They'll insist it's worth TSh3500, but will sell it to you for TSh700 (after a great deal of haggling). Don't pay more than that.

There is an excellent online resource at Yale


Westerners generally (and Americans particularly) have difficulty with Swahili vowels. Unlike English, Swahili pronunciation is extremely regular, and there are never any exceptions. Pronounce each vowel distinctly: kufa, 'to die' is different from kufaa, 'to be useful'.

a    always pronounced like 'father',
never like 'apple' or 'make'.
e 'weigh', never 'recipe'.
i 'see', never 'kite'.
o 'boat', never 'lock'
u 'boot', never 'cut' or 'cute'.

Consonants are like English, except

g   always hard, as in 'good',
never 'giant'.
ng the two letters are pronounced distinctly, as in 'fun game',
not 'thing'. Do not confuse with ng' (the apostrophe makes all the difference)
ng' 'thing', never 'finger'. Do not confuse with ng
g always hard, as in 'good',
never 'giant'.
f 'food', never 'of'.
th 'thin', never 'then'.
dh 'then', never 'thin'.
gh 'loch'.

Words are always accented on the penultimate (last but one) syllable.

Useful expressions - Misemo ya kawaida

How are things?
Things are fine.


How are you?
I'm (very) well.

Nzuri (sana).

Do you speak English?
I speak only English.
I do not understand.
Please speak slowly.

Unasema Kiingereza?
Nasema Kiingereza tu.
Tafadhali useme polepole.

Thank you (very much)
You're welcome

Asante (sana)

(It's) all right
It's not all right

(Ni) sawa
Si sawa

Travel - Safari







Numbers - Hesabu

1 moja 11 kumi na moja
2 mbili 12 kumi na mbili
3 tatu 20 ishrini
4 nne 25 ishrini na tano
5 tano 30 thelathini
6 sita 40, 50, 60 arobaini, hamsini, sitini
7 saba 70, 80, 90 sabini, themanini, tisini
8 nane 100 mia
9 tisa 102, 200 mia na mbili, mia mbili
10 kumi 1000 elfu

Animals - Wanyama

The names of animals we saw while on safari.

Buffalo Nyati Lion Simba
Cheetah Duma Ostrich Mbuni
Elephant (tusked variety) Ndovu Rhino Kifaru
Elephant (untusked) Tembo Vultures tai/tumbusi
Gazelles Pala Zebra Punda milia (lit. 'striped donkey')
Giraffe Twiga
Gnu (Wildebeest) Nyumbu/Mbushi
Hyena Fisi
Leopard Chui

Just as I am, without one plea
Hymns Ancient & Modern, 255

African a capella hymn singing is something to be experienced. I copied this one out of a battered hymnal in Arusha. If you want to sing it but don't know the tune, Hymnsite will sort you out.

Nitwae hivi nilivyo,
Umemwaga damu yako,
Nawe ulivyoniita,
Bwana Jesu, naja.

Hivi nilivyo; si langu
Kujiosha roho yangu;
Nisamehe dhambi zangu,
Bwana Jesu, naja.

Hivi nilivyo; sioni
Kamwe furaha moyoni;
Daima nimashakani,
Bwana Jesu, naja.

Hivi nilivyo kipofu,
Maskini na mpungufu;
Wewe u mtimilifu,
Bwana Jesu, naja.

Nawe hivi utanitwaa;
Nisisubutu kukawa,
Na wewe mitanikataa
Bwana Jesu, naja.

Hivi nilivyo; mapenzi
Yamenipa njia wazi;
Hali na mali sisazi,
Bwana Jesu, naja.
Just as I am, without one plea
but that thy blood was shed for me,
and that thou bidst me come to thee,
O Lamb of God, I come.

Just as I am, though tossed about
with many a conflict, many a doubt,
fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come.

Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind;
sight, riches, healing of the mind,
yea, all I need, in thee to find,
O Lamb of God, I come.

Just as I am, thou wilt receive,
wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve:
because thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come.

Just as I am (thy love unknown
has broken every barrier down),
now to be thine, yea, thine alone,
O Lamb of God, I come.

Just as I am, of that free love
the breadth, length, depth, and height to prove,
here for a season, then above,
O Lamb of God, I come.

Back to index
Back to home

Comments & corrections to <Gavvie@bigfoot.com>