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

Chris Christensen is the creator of the Amateur Traveler blog and podcast, and a co-host for This Week in Travel podcast.

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