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

Additional Resources

Traveling Soon? These useful links will help you prepare for your trip.
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Chris Christensen

by Chris Christensen

Chris Christensen is the creator of the Amateur Traveler blog and podcast. He has been a travel creator since 2005 and has won awards including being named the "Best Independent Travel Journalist" by Travel+Leisure Magazine.

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