Facts About Swahili Language: 10 Facts You Never Knew!

July 19, 2023 No Comments
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Have you ever wanted to learn an unique new language that transports you to a faraway land of adventure? Look no further than Swahili, the official language of several East African countries like Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda.

Swahili is a vibrant language spoken by over 100 million people in East Africa and beyond. You’re about to discover 10 fascinating facts about this melodic tongue that will ignite your wanderlust and have you dreaming of an African safari.

Whether you’re planning your next big trip or just have an unquenchable curiosity for other cultures, these little-known details about Swahili will delight and surprise you. Prepare to be captivated by this exquisite language, unveiling a window into the vibrant histories and rhythms of East Africa. Jambo, rafikis! Hello, friends – your Swahili adventure begins now!

Adventure Awaits!

Knowing Swahili opens up opportunities for travel and adventure. You can go on a safari in the Serengeti, relax on the beaches of Zanzibar, explore the historic sites of Lamu, or hike through the lush rainforests of Rwanda. Wherever you go, you’ll be greeted with the warm hospitality and megawatt smiles of Swahili speakers.

Learning Swahili may not always be easy, but the rewards of connecting with new people and places will stay with you for life. So go on, dive in, and discover the wonders of East Africa through its most cherished language!

Swahili Originated on the Swahili Coast of East Africa

Swahili, the official language of Tanzania and Kenya, has a rich history spanning over 1,000 years. Originating on the Swahili Coast of East Africa, Swahili developed as a lingua franca to allow trade between the Bantu peoples and Arabic traders.Today, over 100 million people speak Swahili, making it the most widely spoken language in sub-Saharan Africa. Some fun facts about this vibrant tongue:

  1. Swahili incorporates Arabic and Bantu words. Much of its vocabulary comes from Arabic, while its Bantu roots give it a melodic, vowel-heavy sound.
  2. There are over 50 dialects of Swahili, but Standard Swahili is the most common. Spoken from southern Somalia to northern Mozambique, Swahili has developed into many regional dialects. But Standard Swahili, based on the Zanzibari dialect, is used in schools, media, and governments.
  3. Swahili uses a Latin alphabet. Although its vocabulary has Arabic influences, Swahili uses a Latin alphabet that was created by European missionaries in the 1800s. This makes Swahili more accessible to English speakers.
  4. Many Swahili proverbs impart wisdom. Like all languages, Swahili is rich in proverbs, such as “Fumbo lisiloshiba, yakwepa kuligundua” which means “A secret that is not kept, avoids being discovered.”
  5. Swahili grammar is quite simple. It has no grammatical genders, plurals are straightforward, and verbs aren’t conjugated based on the subject. The basic sentence structure is subject-verb-object, similar to English.

Swahili is a beautiful, lyrical language with a long and storied history. If you ever get the chance to visit East Africa, pick up a few greetings in Swahili – the locals will surely appreciate your effort!

Swahili Is a Bantu Language

Swahili is part of the Bantu language family, a group of over 500 languages spoken throughout central and southern Africa. As a Bantu language, Swahili shares many similarities with other languages like Zulu, Shona, and Kikuyu. Some characteristics Swahili has in common with other Bantu languages:

  • It uses a system of noun classes, where each noun is assigned to a gender category that determines how it interacts with other parts of speech. For example, the pronoun “he” would be translated differently depending on the noun class of the subject.
  • It contains many loanwords from Arabic, as Swahili developed on the east coast of Africa where there was trade with Arab merchants. These loanwords make up as much as 25% of the Swahili vocabulary.
  • It uses a subject-verb-object word order in sentences and noun phrases are made up of a head noun and modifiers that come after it. For example, “mtoto mdogo” means “little child”.
  • It has a rich system of prefixes and suffixes to denote things like tense, person, and number. The prefix “ni-” means “I” while the suffix “-ni” means “me”.
  • It has a simple five-vowel system (a, e, i, o, u) and a relatively small set of consonants. The sounds in Swahili are very straightforward for English speakers to pronounce.

The Bantu origins of Swahili give it a rhythmic, tonal quality that makes it pleasant to listen to. Its vocabulary and grammar also provide insight into the history of trade and cultural influences in East Africa. Swahili is a language brimming with character and nuance, reflective of the dynamic region from which it comes. If you’re interested in learning an African language, Swahili is a vibrant, upbeat choice!

Swahili Is Written in the Latin Alphabet

About Swahili Language

Swahili is written using the Latin alphabet, just like English! After Arabic and English, Swahili is the most commonly spoken language in Africa. Rather than a complex character system, Swahili uses the familiar letters A through Z. This makes Swahili much easier to read and write compared to languages that have their own unique scripts.

Learning the Latin alphabet is a breeze. You already know it from English, so you have a head start in learning Swahili. The pronunciation of each letter is also very straightforward for the most part. There aren’t any strange combinations of letters that make unexpected sounds. What you see is what you get! Some additional letters were added to handle sounds not found in English, like ‘dh’, ‘th’, and ‘gh’. But these are still quite easy to pick up.

The rules of pronunciation are very consistent. Once you learn them, you can read any Swahili word with confidence. Not having to learn a new alphabet system means you can dive right into learning Swahili grammar and vocabulary.

No need to spend weeks or months practicing characters before moving on to the actual language. The familiarity with the Latin alphabet allows you to start conversing in Swahili much faster. How cool is that?

Swahili uses a writing system you already know. You have a built-in advantage for learning this beautiful African language. The alphabet barrier has been eliminated, so you can focus your efforts on listening, speaking, and really engaging with Swahili.

Learning Swahili will open you up to new cultures, music, movies, books, and more from East Africa. And it all starts with the simple but significant fact that Swahili uses the Latin alphabet. The familiar letters are your portal into this fascinating language. Time to start the adventure!

Swahili Is Spoken by Over 100 Million People

Swahili is spoken by well over 100 million people, making it the most widely spoken language in sub-Saharan Africa. How amazing is that? This vibrant language is popular in many East African countries, like Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Mozambique, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. With so many speakers, Swahili has understandably evolved into many dialects and variations over time. But the good news is that most people can still understand each other, even if certain words or phrases differ between regions.

The standard and official form of Swahili is based on the Zanzibari dialect spoken along the Swahili Coast. This version is commonly used in schools, media, and government across East Africa. The spread of Swahili really took off in the 19th century. Arab traders adopted Swahili as a lingua franca, or common language, to communicate with locals along trade routes in East Africa.

Christian missionaries then promoted Swahili as a common language to spread their faith and teachings. After independence, Swahili became an official language in many East African nations as a way to unite people with different tribal and ethnic backgrounds.

Today, Swahili remains an important part of East African culture. It is spoken on the streets, in the media, in music and movies, and in daily life. Speaking Swahili, even at a basic level, allows you to connect with over 100 million people in a meaningful way. How cool is that? With its melodic sound and expressive nature, Swahili is a beautiful language to learn.

So now you know—Swahili is far more than just “Jambo” and “hakuna matata”. It’s a vibrant language spoken by over 100 million passionate people across East Africa. Time to start learning, my friend! The rewards of diving into this dynamic culture are well worth the effort.

Swahili Has a Vast Vocabulary Borrowed From Arabic and English

The Swahili language has a rich and varied vocabulary, with words adopted from Arabic, English, and Portuguese during historical interactions with other cultures.Arabic InfluenceSwahili borrowed many words from Arabic, including ‘duka’ (shop), ‘chai’ (tea), and ‘serikali’ (government). This influence stems from interactions with Arab traders along the East African coast starting in the 8th century.

Over 20% of Swahili vocabulary comes from Arabic, especially words related to trade, commerce, and administration.English Loanwords Swahili adopted words from English, too, like ‘baiskeli’ (bicycle), ‘basi’ (bus), and ‘kompyuta’ (computer). English influence grew in the 19th century under British colonial rule in East Africa.

Though Swahili remained the official language, English loanwords crept in, especially for modern concepts. These loanwords are pronounced with a Swahili accent and spelling.A Blend of CulturesThe Swahili language beautifully blends influences from different cultures. Its vocabulary reflects a long, rich history of cultural exchange along trade routes connecting East Africa, the Arab world, and beyond.

The language continues to adopt foreign words today, embracing new terms for global concepts. Yet at its core, Swahili remains a Bantu language, still resembling other languages across East and Central Africa. Swahili’s diverse vocabulary gives you a glimpse into its cultural heritage and evolution. From its Bantu roots to Arabic and European influences, the language has a long and fascinating history. Its willingness to borrow words from other tongues allows it to express new ideas in an authentic Swahili way. What a joy for linguists and learners alike to discover!

Swahili Has a Rich Oral Tradition of Poetry and Storytelling

About Swahili Language

Swahili storytelling is an oral tradition that goes back centuries. Through poetry, proverbs, folktales and more, Swahili culture has been passed down through the generations.Storytellers, known as mashairi, are revered in Swahili society. They travel from village to village, sharing stories and news to entertain and educate people. Some of their tales feature classic characters like the hare, the hyena, and the turtle.

Stories often incorporate moral lessons and riddles, meant to pass on wisdom and test cleverness.Swahili poetry, or mashairi, is also an important part of their oral tradition. Poets recite verses on topics like nature, love, daily life, and cultural values. Their poems follow set rhyming schemes and rhythms, with some featuring tongue twisters and wordplay.

One of the most well-known forms of Swahili poetry is the utenzi, which has a distinct meter and stanza structure. Proverbs, or mithali, are also an integral part of Swahili oral tradition. Short sayings like “Haraka haraka haina baraka,” meaning “hurry hurry has no blessing,” or “Kila ndege huruka na mbawa zake,” meaning “Every bird flies with its own wings,” convey moral lessons and cultural beliefs. People weave proverbs into everyday speech and storytelling

From poetry recitals under the stars to tales told around a fire, Swahili oral tradition is meant to be shared and passed on. Through creative expression, these cultural traditions have endured for generations, keeping Swahili heritage alive. What an inspiring gift to leave for the future! By valuing their rich oral history, Swahilis have ensured these artistic traditions will continue for generations to come.

Swahili Uses Prefixes and Suffixes to Create New Words

Swahili is a fun language to learn, in part because of how it creates new words. Rather than cobbling together new terms from scratch, Swahili uses prefixes and suffixes to modify existing words into new ones. For example, the prefix “ki-” turns a noun into its diminutive form, like “kitoto” which means “little child.” The prefix “m-” denotes a person or agent, so “Mwalimu” means “teacher” and “mganga” means “healer.” There are over 100 prefixes and suffixes in Swahili for creating new words! Some other useful prefixes include:

  • “U-” which turns a verb into a noun, e.g. “kusoma” (to read) becomes “usomaji” (reading).
  • “N-” which refers to something associated with the root word, e.g. “nyumba” (house) becomes “nyumbani” (at home).
  • “Wa-” which refers to a group of people, e.g. “Mswahili” (Swahili person) becomes “Waswahili” (Swahili people).

Handy suffixes include:

  • “-eni” which means “in” or “at”, e.g. “shuleni” (at school).
  • “-o” which creates an adjective from a verb, e.g. “safi” (clean).

By mastering Swahili’s system of prefixes and suffixes, you’ll pave the path toward constructing an impressive Swahili vocabulary and comprehending the mechanics of word formation. The flexibility of the language allows for endless wordplay and linguistic creativity. Start with a few prefixes and suffixes, and you’ll quickly get the hang of it!

Kiswahili or Swahili: What’s the Difference? FAQs

So what’s the difference between Kiswahili and Swahili? We’re glad you asked! Kiswahili and Swahili actually refer to the same language. Kiswahili is simply the native name for the language in Kenya and Tanzania, while Swahili became popular with English speakers.

Swahili, also known as Kiswahili, is the most widely spoken language in East Africa. Over 100 million people speak Swahili as a first or second language, especially in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Mozambique, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.Some fun facts about this vibrant language:

  • Swahili has a rich history and incorporates words from Arabic, Portuguese, English, and German due to historical trade relationships. This fusion of cultures is what gives Swahili its unique flavor.
  • Swahili uses the Latin alphabet, so it’s easy to read and write. Bonus – you can impress your friends by writing their names in the Swahili alphabet!
  • The African Union considers Swahili an official language and designates it as an official lingua franca of East Africa. Speaking Swahili is a great way to connect with others across borders.
  • Swahili grammar is quite simple with no grammatical genders, cases, or plurals. Verbs also don’t change based on the subject. This makes Swahili very straightforward to pick up.
  • Swahili has some really fun words to say like “hujambo” (hello), “asante” (thank you), and “rafiki” (friend).
  • Listening to Swahili music, like Bongo Flava from Tanzania, is a great way to immerse yourself in the energetic culture and learn common phrases..

So go ahead, don’t be shy – dive in and start learning Swahili, or Kiswahili, today! You’ll unlock a vibrant culture, connect with new friends, and have a blast along the way. Hujambo and all the best on your language adventure!

Fascinating Swahili Words and Phrases

The Swahili language is chock-full of colorful words and phrases. Here are some of the most fascinating ones:


Meaning “thank you,” Asante is one of the most well-known Swahili words. Express your gratitude by saying Asante sana (thank you very much) or Asante kwa chakula (thank you for the meal).

Hakuna Matata

You’ll recognize this phrase from The Lion King. Hakuna Matata means “no worries” or “no problem.” Use it to convey a relaxed, carefree attitude.


Not just the name of Simba’s wise baboon friend, Rafiki means “friend” or “companion.” Call a close pal Rafiki as a term of endearment.


When saying goodbye, wish someone Kwaheri. It translates to “farewell” or “goodbye.” For a more casual goodbye, say Kwaheri kwa sasa (see you later).•Habari – “How are you?” or “What’s new?”•Ahsante – “Thank you” or “You’re welcome”•Karibu – “Welcome”•Tafadhali – “Please”•Ndiyo – “Yes”•Hapana – “No”

The Swahili language is melodic, poetic, and fun to speak. Next time you’re in East Africa, don’t be afraid to try out some of these fascinating words and phrases. The locals will surely appreciate your enthusiasm and effort to connect with their rich culture. Say “Asante!” and dive right in—hakuna matata!


You now have 10 fascinating facts about Swahili tucked away in your brain. Who knew this beautiful language spoken by over 100 million people had such an interesting history and array of influences? Swahili continues to evolve and spread its melodic sounds and poetic proverbs across East Africa.

Maybe now is the time for you to start learning some Swahili greetings or songs. A new world of cultural connections could open up to you. Don’t let this opportunity pass you by. The adventures that await you in exploring the Swahili language are limited only by your imagination. Open your mind, pick up a phrasebook, and dive into this captivating tongue. You’ll be saying “Jambo!” (Hello!) and “Asante!” (Thank you!) before you know it. The wonders of Swahili await—go discover them!

To learn more on basic greetings please check out Introduction to Kiswahili where students will be introduced to 8 common terms that they can then use in simple conversations or to answer questions. 

To learn more about the Swahili Language please check my TPT store which contains a lot of fun, engaging and interactive resources that are designed to teach Kiswahili while having fun! 

Want It All?

Check out The Great Ultimate Bundle, which has 34 products for learning Kiswahili! 

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I'm an elementary school teacher who loves what she does! I enjoy creating resources in my Native language "kiswahili". My goal is to spread the beautiful language of "Kiswahili" inside and outside the classroom. Thanks for stopping by! Read More

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