Intro to Learning Swahili

categories: africa travel

This week’s Amateur Traveler podcast was on traveling to Zanzibar in Tanzania. You can get by in English in Tanzania but you will have a better experience if you pick up even a little (kidogo) Swahili. Swahili is a simple language since it was formed as a pidgin language to help natives who spoke Bantu languages communicate with Arab traders.

Swahili Pronunciation

Most letters have the same sound as in English. There are only 5 vowel sounds:

a – like a in father

e – like e in get

i – like ee in see

o – like o in old

u – like oo in tooth

here are some different sounds:

dh like th in this

gh, kh like the ch in the Scottish loch or German Bach

ng’ like ng in song

ny like n in onion


hujambo – how are you? (literally – you have no problems?)

sijambo – (response) – I have no problems

hamjambo – how are you ? (plural) (literally – you all have no problems?)

hatujambo – (response) – We have no problems

(at the door of a house) Hodi!

Karibu! – come in


Karibuni! – come in (plural)

habari za safari – how was your trip?

habari za asubuhi – how was your morning?

habari za mchana – how is everything today?

habari gani – what news?

Everything I want to know about Swahili I learned from Lion King

  • Safari – trip
  • Simba – Lion
  • Hakuna Matata – no worries
  • Pumbaa – simpleton
  • Rafiki – friend
  • Nala – gift
  • Shenzi – uncouth
  • Banzai – skulk
  • Sarabi – mirage

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by Chris Christensen

I am the host of the Amateur Traveler. The Amateur Traveler is an online travel show that focuses primarily on travel destinations and what are the best places to travel to. It includes both a weekly audio podcast, a video podcast, and a blog.

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