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5 10月

Do you want to speak Swahili?

Jambo mzungu!


Maybe you heard locals calling you on the street, “Jambo!”, with big smiles and a desire to talk to you? You woulden’t have to been long in Zanzibar for that to happen. Jambo is a swahili greating, mostly used when the locals talk to foreigners, and simply means “hi”. Next would normally be “mambo”, asking how you are doing, and I’m sure you heard the sentence “hakuna matata”, a way of saying “no problems, no worries”.



Swahili, or kiswahili, as it’s originally is called, is a Bantu language, and is not too difficult to learn. If you plan on traveling around a bit in East Africa, you can come a long way by learning some of the words used in daily life. It can be an advantage when negotiating about prices, talking to some of the curious kids you meet every day, or simply just as a friendly gesture of respect for the country you are a guest in. Swahili is used in several countries, including Zanzibar, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, to mention some.



There is no exact number of how many people that has swahili as their first language, but the number may be around 90 million alone in Africa, which makes it the most widely spoken African language. Swahili has some influence from Arabic language, and was earlier written in Arabic letters. Now they use the English alphabet, except not using the letters Q and X.





When learning swahili you should also be aware that the way of telling the time in Zanzibar, is not the same as you might be used to. Swahili time starts at sunrise, which is normally around the same time every day, at 6 in the morning. So at 6 they start the day, calling it 0.00. Meaning that at 7 am the swahili time will be 1. It might be a bit confusing in the beginning, and one tip to get it right is to look at your watch, and the opposite number. So if it’s 1 in swahili time, the opposite number on your watch is 7, when 2 in swahili, it’s 8, and so on.




I will give you some basic words in swahili, and maybe you recognize some of them. The movie “Lion King”, has several swahili words. Like “simba” means “lion”. “Rafiki” means “friend”, and there is a song in the movie where they sing “asante sana”, which means “thank you”.


Jambo – Hello

Mambo – How are you?

Poa – Fine/Good

Mzungu – White foreigner

Habari – Good morning

Asante – Thank you

Asante sana – Thank you very much

Karibu – Welcome

Pole pole – Slowly slowly

Chakula – Food

Ndiyo – Yes

Hapana – No

Hatari – Danger

Samahani – Excuse me

Maji – Water

Ninaitwa Anna – My name is Anna

Sawa – Okay

Sasa – Now

Kesho – Tomorrow


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  1. Pingback : HOW TO SPEAK SWAHILI | Guesthouse Ten to Ten Zanzibar Stone Town

  2. Pingback : Can we speak English in Zanzibar | Guesthouse Ten to Ten Zanzibar Stone Town

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