Learn Swahili Fast: 15 Easy Traveler Phrases

July 14, 2023 No Comments
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As you embark on your trip to Kenya or Tanzania, preparing to experience the vibrant culture and stunning natural landscapes, you quickly realize you only know a few basic greetings in Swahili. While many locals in cities and popular tourist destinations speak English, learning some useful Swahili phrases will help you connect more deeply with the people and place.

Swahili, also known as Kiswahili, is the most widely spoken language in East Africa, and locals will appreciate your effort. This article provides 15 essential Swahili phrases to know for your travels. With a little practice, you’ll be conversing comfortably and forging meaningful interactions within a few days. Get ready to dive into the captivating Swahili language and culture. Your adventure awaits!

Greetings: The Most Essential Swahili Phrases

swahili phrases

The most essential Swahili greetings to know are Jambo – Hello. This is a friendly greeting used when meeting someone for the first time. Habari – How are you? The common response is Nzuri, meaning “Fine”.Hujambo – Hello, how are you? The response is Sijambo, meaning “I’m fine”.Salama – Hello. Literally means “Peace”.Kwaheri – Goodbye. Used when departing from someone. Asante – Thank you. This an important phrase to express your gratitude. Karibu – You’re welcome. Used in response to Asante (Thank you).Jina lako nani? – What is your name? Useful when meeting new people.Jina langu ni… – My name is… Provide your name in response. Unatoka wapi? – Where are you from? Helpful for starting a conversation.Ninatoka… – I’m from… Share where you are from.

Knowing proper greetings and etiquette is essential when traveling to a new country and interacting with locals. Master these basic Swahili greetings and you’ll be conversing comfortably in no time. Be polite, friendly, and smile – it can go a long way! Don’t forget to ask open-ended questions to keep the discussion going. Most importantly, listen and be genuinely interested in learning more about the local people and culture.

How to Say ‘Please’ and ‘Thank You’ in Swahili

To show gratitude and courtesy in Swahili, it is important to know how to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.Tafadhali means ‘please’ in Swahili. Use it when making a request to be polite, such as ‘Tafadhali nipe chai’ which means ‘Please give me tea’. Respond with ‘Karibu’ which means ‘you’re welcome’ to express your appreciation for the request being granted. Asante means ‘thank you’ in Swahili. Be sure to say Asante when someone helps you or gives you something. For example, say ‘Asante kwa chakula’ to thank someone for a meal. You can also say ‘Asanteni’ to thank multiple people.

Other Useful Swahili Phrases

  • Samahani – Excuse me / Sorry
  • Ndio – Yes
  • Hapana – No
  • Tafadhali Nisaidie – Please help me
  • Je, unaweza kunisaidia? – Can you help me?
  • Sijui – I don’t know
  • Naomba msamaha – Please forgive me / Excuse me

By learning these essential phrases, you will be able to express courtesy and show gratitude in Swahili. Be polite, say ‘tafadhali’ and ‘Asante’ frequently, and you will find locals appreciate your effort to respect their language and customs. Mastering basic greetings and etiquette is key to learning any new language. Use these phrases, listen for them in conversations, and your Swahili will improve in no time.

Asking for Help in Swahili: Key Phrases You Should Know

swahili phrases

To get help in an unfamiliar place, it is useful to know how to ask for it in the local language. Here are some key Swahili phrases to know for asking for help. Asking for directions if you get lost, politely ask “Tafadhali nisaidie, nimepotea.” which means “Please help me, I’m lost.”. You can then ask “Ninawezaje kufika…?” meaning “How can I get to…?”. Be ready to show the name or address of your destination written down.

Requesting Emergency AssistanceIn case of an emergency, call out “Msaidizi!” which means “Help!”. To call for medical help, say “Daktari!” which means “Doctor!”. For the police, call “Polisi!”. Stay calm and repeat these calls for help until someone responds. Asking for General Help For any other type of assistance, use the phrase “Nisaidie?” which means “May I have some help?”. You can specify what kind of help you need, such as:

  • “Ninaweza kupata msaada na mizigo yangu?” (“Can I get help with my luggage?”)
  • “Je, unaweza kunisaidia na kitu fulani?” (“Can you possibly assist me with something?”)
  • “Unaweza kunisaidia kutafuta…?” (“Can you help me find…?”)

Politely thank anyone who helps you with “Asante sana” (meaning “Thank you very much”) and a smile. Knowing how to ask for help in a respectful manner can make traveling to a foreign country much less stressful. With the useful Swahili phrases for requesting assistance, you’ll feel more at ease exploring all that Tanzania has to offer.

Food and Drink Vocabulary: Ordering in Swahili

To order food and drink in Swahili, it is useful to know some basic vocabulary. Below are some essential phrases to use at restaurants and bars in Tanzania or Kenya:

Chakula (Food)

Common Swahili words for food include:

  • Maharagwe – Beans
  • Ugali – Cornmeal porridge, a staple food
  • Samaki – Fish
  • Nyama – Meat
  • Chapati – Flatbread
  • Pilau – Spiced rice dish with meat and vegetables

To order, say “Nataka…” (I want…) followed by the name of the dish. For example, “Nataka maharagwe na samaki” (I want beans and fish).

Vinywaji (Drinks)

Typical drinks in Swahili include:

  • Maji – Water
  • Chai – Tea
  • Kahawa – Coffee
  • Soda – Soft drink

You can order by saying “Nipe…” (Give me…) and the name of the drink. For example, “Nipe chai, tafadhali” (Give me tea, please).

Additional Helpful swahili phrases

  • Samahani, nipe menu tafadhali – Excuse me, can I have a menu, please?
  • Je, una…? – Do you have…?
  • Nina njaa/kiu – I’m hungry/thirsty
  • Ningependa Kulipa – I would like to pay

Knowing some essential food and drink terms, as well as polite phrases to order and pay, will help you navigate meals smoothly while traveling in Swahili-speaking countries. With regular practice, you will gain confidence in conversing casually over an ‘ugali’ or ‘pilau’.

Common Questions and Responses in Swahili

When traveling in Swahili-speaking regions, knowing some basic questions and responses will help you navigate conversations politely and respectfully. Here are some of the most useful phrases to know:

What is your name? – Jina lako ni nani?

To ask someone their name, say “Jina lako ni nani?” (pronounced “jee-nah lah-koh nee nah-nee”). To respond with your name, say “Jina langu ni [your name]” (pronounced “jee-nah lahn-goo nee [your name]”).

How are you? – Habari yako?

The greeting “Habari yako?” (pronounced “hah-bah-ree yah-koh”) means “How are you?” An appropriate response is “Nzuri, Asante” (pronounced “mm-zoo-ree ah-sahn-tay”) which means “Fine, thank you.”

Do you speak English? – Unaongea Kiingereza?

If ask someone to speak English, say “Unaongea Kiingereza?” (pronounced “oo-nah-ohn-gay-ah kee-een-geh-reh-zah”). To respond yes, say “Ndiyo, naongea Kiingereza kidogo” (pronounced “n-dee-yoh, nah-ohn-gay-ah kee-een-geh-reh-zah kee-doh-goh”) which means “Yes, I speak a little English.” To respond no, say “Hapana, sioni Kiingereza” (pronounced “hah-pah-nah, see-oh-nee kee-een-geh-reh-zah”) which means “No, I don’t speak English.”

Thank you – Asante

The Swahili word for “thank you” is “Asante” (pronounced “ah-sahn-tay”). Use this phrase liberally to express gratitude and appreciation for any help or kindness. Other useful expressions include “Asante sana” which means “Thank you very much” and “Karibu” which means “You’re welcome.”Knowing some basic Swahili greetings, questions, and expressions of gratitude will help put you at ease exploring Swahili-speaking regions. With regular practice of these and other useful phrases, you’ll gain confidence in basic communication and enrich your travel experience.


As you’ve seen, Swahili has a reputation for being challenging to pick up, but by focusing on useful phrases, you can gain a solid foundation in the language before your trip. Knowing even a handful of greetings, questions, and expressions of gratitude can help you connect with locals in a meaningful way.

So practice these phrases, listen to audio clips to grasp the pronunciation, and have fun with it. When you arrive, don’t be afraid to speak up – the rewards of engaging with people in their native tongue are well worth the effort. Say “Jambo!” and “Asante!” generously, keep an open mind and smile on your face, and your trip to Tanzania or Kenya will be that much richer for it. Now you have the tools – it’s time to take your Swahili on safari!

With over 100 million speakers, Swahili is the most widely spoken language in East Africa. Learning Swahili gives you the key to business, travel, and social opportunities throughout Kenya, Tanzania, and beyond. Add Swahili to your skill set and expand your horizons!

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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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