A Swahili Lesson

Day 3: A Swahili Lesson

After the morning’s short Swahili lesson I’m still determined to learn it. I’ve pretty much been labeled the linguist of our group thanks to a surprising knack at memorization, but it’s mostly just out of interest for the language.

Swahili, a language based on Arabic, is one of the national languages of Kenya alongside English. With over 40 different tribes, each with their own language, it seems that the language of trade, lingua franca, or simply the language spoken between tribes is Swahili. The written version is in the same alphabet as English, which helps quite a bit. It’s also phonetically written, meaning that the trick your grade one teacher told you when you asked how to spell a word, to “sound it out”, actually works.

Other parts of the language are much simpler than the millions of exceptions in English or French. All verbs in their infinitive form are also labeled quite nicely with a “ku” at the start of the word, which means “to”. So, something like, “to sleep” would be “kulala”, “ku” for “to”, and “lala” for sleep. Seriously, if English has any tricks like that, I don’t know them.

The words that are the most fun to learn are the ones that I knew as names, but didn’t realize actually meant something. Most of those, of course, come from the Lion King, like Simba (Lion), Rafiki (Friend), or Hakuna Matata (it means no worries, for the rest of your days…really!), but there are others that I didn’t expect to recognize, like Kijiji, which means village.

Mini Swahili Dictionary:

Jambo! – Hello!
Habari yako? – How are you?
Mzuri – Good
Mzuri sana – Very Good
Ndio – Yes
Hapana – No
Asante – Thank you
Asante sana – Thank you very much
Jina lako ni nani? – What is your name?
Jina langu ni… – My name is…
Ninaitwa… – I’m called…
Simba – Lion
Rafiki – Friend
Hakuna Matata – No worries
Karibu – Welcome
Kwaheri – Goodbye


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