Languages


Kenya's two main languages are English and Swahili. Unless you are hopelessly lost in the bush somewhere, you will probably be able to find someone who speaks English. Attempts to use Swahili are generally warmly received and can often help in conversations. Despite the widespread use of Swahili, most Kenyans have their own tribal language and view Swahili as a foreign language, as they do English.

Dialect map of Kenya - 325K (shows major Kenyan dialects by region).

Swahili is not a difficult language. It is pronounced pretty much as it looks. Nothing is silent and there are no real tricks.

Below is a small, categorized list of some words that might be helpful, as well as some online resources and dictionaries.

Greetings (and other basics)

Hello	      	      Jambo
No problems   	      Sijambo
  (response)

How are things?       Habari?
Fine, etc.            Nzuri
  (response)

Goodbye to one/       Kwaheri/Kwaherini
 goodbye to many
Come in		      Karibu
Thank you	      Asante

Mr. (respectful       Bwana
  - adult man)
Mrs., Miss            Mama
  (respectful-
   adult woman
youth/youths          kijana/vijana
child/children        mtoto/watoto

What is your name?    Jina lako nani?
My name is...	      Jina langu...
What are you called?  Unaitwaje?
I am called...	      Nina itwa...


 Numbers

1     moja
2     mbili
3     tatu
4     nne
5     tano
6     sita
7     saba
8     nane
9     tisa
10    kumi
11    kumi na moja
12-19 kumi na (mbili, tatu, etc.)
20    ishirini
21-29 ishirini na (moja, mbili, etc.)
30    thelathini
40    arobaini
50    hamsini
60    sitini
70    sabini
80    themanini
90    tisini
100   mia moja
121   mia moja na ishirini na moja
1000  elfu moja


           Time

What time is it?    Saa ngapi?
three o'clock	    saa tisa
quarter past        na robo
half past           na nusu
quarter to          kasa robo
minutes             dakika
early  		    mapema
yesterday 	    jena
today 	  	    leo
tomorrow	    kesho
daytime		    mchana
nighttime	    usiku
dawn		    alfajiri
morning		    asubuhi


        Days

Monday        jumatatu
Tuesday	      jumanne
Wednesday     jumatano
Thursday      alhamisi
Friday	      ijumaa
Saturday      jumamosi
Sunday	      jumapili


       Verbs

Note that "ku" is the infinitive and generally separable.

to be able
  (can)		ku-weza
to be,
  to become	ku-wa
to bring	ku-leta
to buy		ku-nunua
to come		kuja (irregular)
to come from	ku-toka
to drink	ku-nywa
to eat		ku-la
to give		ku-pa
to go		kwenda (generally irregular)
to have		ku-wa na
to hear		ku-sikia
to know		ku-jua
to like,
  to love	ku-penda
to look		ku-tazama
to think	ku-fikiri
to be tired	ku-choka
to say,
   to speak 	ku-sema
to see,
   to meet 	ku-ona
to sleep	ku-lala
to stay		ku-kaa
to want		ku-taka


      Pronouns

Me, I		Mimi, Ni
You		Wewe, U
Him/Her		Yeye
He/She		A
Us, We		Sisi, Tu
You (plural)	Ninyi, M
Them, They	Wao, Wa


       Tenses

present		  -na-
past 		  -li-
future	 	  -ta-
immediately past
  or continuing   -me-


   Useful words

yes		ndiyo
no		hapana
expensive	ghali sana
cheap 		rahisi
right		kulia
left		kushoto
up 		juu
down		chini
friend		rafiki
Pardon		Samahani
Where is?	Wapi?
here		hapa
when?		lini?
now		sasa
soon		sasa hivi
why?		kwa nini?
because		kwa sababu
who?		nini?
what?		nani?
which?		gani?/gapi?
true 		kweli
and/with	na
or		au
(it) is/
  (they) are    ni


Useful phrases

I don't understand           Sifahamu/Sielewi
I don't speak Swahili        Sisemi kiswahili
How do you say in Swahili?   Unasemaje kwa kiswahili...?
Could you repeat that?	     Sema tena
Speak slowly		     Sema pole pole
I don't know		     Sijui
Where can I stay?	     Naweza kukaa wapi?
Can I stay here?	     Naweza kukaa hapa?
How much?		     Ngapi?
How much is...?		     Pesa ngapi...?
What price?		     Bei gani...?
I want...		     Nataka...
I don't want...		     Sitaki...

Come down a little
  (in price)		     Punguza kidogo
Bring me...		     Nilete...
Where are you going?	     Nenda wapi?
I'm going to...		     Nenda...
When does it leave?	     Inaondoka lini?
When will we arrive?	     Tutafiki lini?
I want to get off here	     Nataka kushuka hap
Let's go (carry on, etc.)    Twende
straight ahead 		     Moja kwa moja
Excuse me (let me
  through)		     Hebu


Online Swahili Resources

Internet Living Swahili Dictionary - An excellent online resource which includes grammar notes, a multimedia pronunciation guide, and a dictionary.

Ethnologue - Languages of Kenya - A comprehensive listing with each language broken into its various dialects, number of speakers, etc.

Kiswahili Home Page - A good tutorial which is split into chapters. Includes a short history of the Kiswahili language.

Noun Classification in Swahili


Dictionaries (Swahili-English and English-Swahili)

ENGLISH-SWAHILI DICTIONARY AND SWAHILI-ENGLISH DICTIONARY, compiled by Madan (ISBN 082-888-458-7).

A STANDARD SWAHILI-ENGLISH DICTIONARY AND A STANDARD ENGLISH-SWAHILI DICTIONARY, Frederick Johnson (ISBN: 0-19-572006-7).

SWAHILI-ENGLISH DICTIONARY, edited by Charles Rechenbach (The Catholic University of America Press, 1968).

CONCISE SWAHILI AND ENGLISH DICTIONARY, compiled by D.V. Perrott (ISBN 0-340-54695-6).

A CONCISE ENGLISH-SWAHILI DICTIONARY, compiled by R. A. Snoxall (ISBN 0-19-639348-5).

SWAHILI-ENGLISH DICTIONARY, 1991, Gerald Feeley (ISBN 87-7028-638-8).



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