USEFUL SWAHILI WORDS AND PHRASES FOR TRAVELERS

Tanzanians are a big fan of people who try to speak their language, and you’ll often hear things like ‘woow you speak really good Swahili’ if you know as little as ‘hello’ or ‘thank you’. Many people in the tourist areas speak English so you probably won’t need a lot of Swahili, but they like to at least greet new people in Swahili, so it’s good to know some basics. No idea where to start? Hakuna matata, we’ve got you covered!

You don’t have to worry a lot about pronunciation, as letters in Swahili are mostly pronounced as in English. If you want to make sure you get it absolutely right, we recommend checking out this website.

Of course we realize you won’t always have access to internet during your trip, so we’ve included a pdf-version of this page for you to print out or save on your phone and bring along. Scroll to the bottom to download it. 

GREETINGS & INTRODUCTIONS

Tanzanians LOVE their greetings and Swahili is definitely one of the languages with the most possible greetings we’ve ever heard! Have a look at the options below, and remember to always use at least 2 or 3 before starting the actual conversation, or you might be considered rude! 

How are you/things? 

Jambo? 

Hujambo? (singular)

Hamjambo? (plural)

Fine

I’m fine

We are fine

Jambo

Sijambo

Hatujambo 

What’s your news?

Habari?

Fine

Peaceful

Nzuri / safi

Salama

What’s up?

Mambo? 

Vipi?

(only between people of the same age)

Cool

Fine

Peaceful

Poa

Nzuri / safi

Salama

Greeting an older person

Shikamoo (always use this to be polite) 

Response from older person

Marahaba

Are you healthy?

Mzima?

I’m healthy

Mzima

What’s your name?

Unaitwa nani?

Jina lako nani?

My name is…

Ninaitwa …

Jina langu ni … 

Where are you from?

Unatokea wapi?

I come from…

Ninatokea … 

How old are you?

Una miaka mingapi?

I’m … years old

Nina miaka … (see below for numbers) 

Nice to meet you

Ninafuraha kukutana nawe

Goodbye

Kwaheri

(See you) later!

(Tutaonana) baadaye

Good day (as goodbye)

Siku njema

Good evening (as goodbye)

Jioni njema

Good night (as goodbye)

Usiku mwema

Sleep well

Lala salama

COURTESIES & (DIS)AGREEMENTS

Yes

Ndiyo

No

Hapana

OK

Sawa

Thank you

Ahsante (to 1 person)

Ahsanteni (to more than 1 person)

No, thank you

Hapana ahsante

(You’re) welcome

Karibu (to 1 person)

Karibuni (to more than 1 person)

Please

Tafadhali

Can I please get …

Naomba … (this literally means ‘I beg’ and it’s used more often than ‘tafadhali’)

Excuse me

Samahani

Sorry

Pole (pole is used a lot, in hundreds of situations, from saying ‘sorry it’s raining’ to ‘sorry your mother passed away’)

… very much

… sana (eg. ahsante sana, pole sana, …)

No worries

Hakuna matata (usually only used for tourists)

No problem

Hamna shida

Do you understand?

Unaelewa?

I understand

Naelewa

I don’t understand

Sielewi

I don’t speak Swahili

Siongei Kiswahili

Do you speak English?

Unaongea Kiingereza?

A little bit

Kidogo

Could you repeat?

Sema tena

Slowly

Pole pole

Please write it down for me

Naomba uniandikie … 

Do you like …?

Unapenda …? 

I like …

Napenda … 

I don’t like …

Sipendi … 

Do you know …?

Unajua …? 

I know …

Najua … 

I don’t know

Sijui …

PRONOUNS & PEOPLE

Me

Mimi

You

Wewe

He/she

Yeye

We

Sisi

You (plural)

Ninyi

They

Wao

Woman

Mwanamke (pl. wanawake)

Mother

Mama

Madam, miss, misses

Mama

Grandmother

Bibi 

Sister

Dada – also for a sister from another mister 

Man

Mwanaume (pl. wanaume) 

Father

Baba

Sir, mister

Bwana

Grandfather

Babu

Brother

Kaka – also for a brother from another mother

Friend

Rafiki 

Child

Mtoto

QUESTIONS

What?

Nini?

Where?

Wapi?

Who?

Nani?

When?

Lini?

Why?

Kwa nini?

How many?

Ngapi?

Because …

Kwa sababu

Which? / What kind of?

Gani?

NUMBERS

One

Moja

Two

Mbili

Three

Tatu

Four

Nne

Five

Tano

Seven

Saba

Eight

Nane

Nine

Tisa

Ten

Kumi

Eleven

Kumi na moja

Twelve

Kumi na mbili

Twenty

Ishirini

Thirty

Thelathini

Fourty

Arobaini

Fifty

Hamsini

Sixty

Sitini

Seventy

Sabini

Eighty

Themanini

Ninety

Tisini

One hundred

Mia moja

Two hundred

Mia mbili

One thousand

Elfu moja

Two thousand

Elfu mbili

Ten thousand

Elfu kumi

Twenty thousand

Elfu ishirini

One hundred thousand

Laki moja

Two hundred thousand

Laki mbili

One million

Millioni moja

Two million

Millioni mbili

Half

Nusu

Quarter

Robo

Minus

Kasoro

Plus / and

Na

Precisely

Kamili

TIME & DATE

To speak about time in Swahili, you use ‘saa’ (hour) and then combine the numbers above. The only difficulty is that Swahili time is counted differently than time in most other places in the world, as it’s based on sunrise and sunset and not on noon and midnight. Being located close to the equator, of course sunrise and sunset in Tanzania occur around the same time every day of the year. There’s a difference of 6 hours, so 0 hours isn’t at midnight, but at 6 am. 5.45 pm would be saa kumi na mbili kasoro robo jioni (12 hours (6 + 6) minus a quarter in the evening). 

Please realize that Tanzanians are generally less strict about time than Europeans or Americans. This isn’t considered rude, especially in situations that aren’t work-related but even in those, it’s normal. Our guides and staff members are of course aware that timings need to be respected when dealing with our clients, but other people you meet might not be this precise. If you want to accentuate to somebody that they should be on time, you can use the word ‘kamili’, eg. saa moja asubuhi kamili means 7 am precisely, or use ‘naomba usichelewe’, meaning ‘please don’t be late’. 

Hour

Saa

Minute

Dakika

Second

Sekunde

What time is it?

Saa ngapi?

When?

Lini?

Morning

Asubuhi (from 7 am to 11.59 am)

(After)noon

Mchana (from 12 pm to 3.59 pm)

Evening

Jioni (from 4 pm to 6.59 pm)

Night

Usiku (from 7 pm to 6.59 am)

Now

Sasa

Soon

Sasa hivi

Later

Baadaye

Before …

Kabla ya …

After …

Baada ya …

Previous / ago

Iliyopita (eg. last week, wiki iliyopita – 2 weeks ago, wiki mbili zilizopita)

Next

Ijayo (eg. next week, wiki ijayo)

Early

Mapema

Today

Leo

Tomorrow

Kesho

Yesterday

Jana

Day after tomorrow

Kesho kutwa

Day before yesterday

Juzi

Date

Tarahe (eg. tarehe moja Desemba)

Day

Siku

Week

Wiki

Month

Mwezi

Year

Mwaka

Monday

Jumatatu

Tuesday

Jumanne

Wednesday

Jumatano

Thursday

Alhamisi

Friday

Ijumaa

Saturday

Jumamosi

Sunday

Jumapili

SHOPPING & PAYING

Shop

Duka

Market

Soko

Price

Bei

Money

Hela

Cash money

Pesa

Do you sell … ?

Unauza … ?

I want to buy …

Nataka kununua … 

More

Zaidi

Less

Kidogo zaidi

How much/many? (general)

Ngapi?

Which?

Gani?

Which price?

Bei gani? 

Shi ngapi? (literally: how many shillings?)

Cheap

Rahisi

Expensive

Ghali

That’s a good price

Bei inafaa

Please reduce the price

Naomba upunguze bei

I have a card

Nina kadi

I’m only looking

Naangalia tu

I don’t need …

Sihitaji … 

I want to change money

Nataka kubadilisha pesa 

ACCOMMODATION

I’m looking for…

Ninatafuta…

A (cheap) hotel

Hoteli (rahisi)

A hostel

Hosteli

Where is it?

Iko wapi?

Do you have a room?

Kuna chumba kinapatikana?

What’s the price per night?

Ni bei gani kwa usiku?

What’s the price per person?

Ni bei gani kwa mtu mmoja? 

Please show me the room

Naomba nionyeshe chumba

I’ll take the room

Nitachukua chumba 

Is breakfast included?

Je, chumba kitakuwa na chakula cha asubuhi?

Breakfast is included

Chakula cha asubuhi kinapatikana

I want to wash my clothes

Nataka kufua nguo zangu

Please wash my clothes

Naomba unifulie nguo zangu

I want to stay until…

Nataka kukaa mpaka … (see above for dates)

I want to stay … nights

Nataka kukaa usiku … (see above for numbers)

I’m leaving today 

Ninaondoka leo

Room

Chumba (pl. vyumba)

Bed

Kitanda (pl. vitanda)

Bathroom

Bafu

Toilet

Choo (pl. vyoo) 

Hot/cold water

Maji moto/baridi

FOOD & DRINKS

Menu

Menu

Bill

Bili

I would like …

Naomba … (eg. naomba pilau, I would like pilau) 

The bill, please

Naomba bili

Naomba kulipa (I’d like to pay)

I’m hungry

Nahisi njaa

I’m thirsty

Nina kiu

The food is very good

Chakula kiko kitamu sana

I’m full

Nimeshiba

It’s enough

Inatosha

Please give me more

Naomba niongeze 

Food

Chakula

Breakfast

Chakula cha asubuhi

Lunch

Chakula cha mchana

Dinner

Chakula cha jioni

To eat / I eat

Kula / Ninakula

Drink / drinks

Kinywaji / vinwayi

(Drinking) water

Maji (ya kunywa)

Softdrink

Soda

Juice

Juice

Tea

Chai

Coffee

Kahawa

Milk

Maziwa

Soup

Supu

Beer

Bia

Cold

Baridi (be specific if you want a cold drink) 

Warm

Moto

Large

Kubwa

Small

Ndogo

Or

Au

Meat

Nyama (often used to describe beef)

Beef

Nyama ya ng’ombe

Chicken

Kuku

Fish

Samaki

Goat

Mbuzi

Grilled

Choma (eg. nyama choma, grilled meat)

Meat skewers

Mishkaki  

Sauce

Mchuzi (eg. kuku mchuzi)

Rice

Wali

Ugali

Local dish made from corn flour

Chapati

Local ‘tortilla’ made from corn flour

Vegetables

Mboga mboga

Fruits

Matunda

Avocado

Parachichi

Mango

Embe (pl. maembe)

Pineaple

Nanasi 

Orange

Chungwa (pl. machungwa)

Banana

Ndizi

Watermelon

Tikiti maji

 

Green pepper

Pilipili hoho

Carrot

Karoti

Tomato

Nyanya

Onion

Kitunguu (pl. vitunguu)

Potato

Kiazi (pl. viazi)

Cucumber

Tango (pl. matango)

I don’t eat … 

Sili … 

… but I do eat …

… lakini nakula … 

Without 

Bila

TRANSPORT, PLACES & DIRECTIONS

Where?

Wapi?

Where is … ?

… iko wapi?

Trip, journey

Safari

Have a safe trip

Safari njema!

I want to go to… 

Nataka kwenda …

Road 

Barabara

Are you on the way?

Uko njiani?

I’m on the way

Niko njiani

We’ve arrived

Tumefika

Straight forward

Moja kwa moja

A little bit futher (forward)

Mbele

To the right

Kwa kulia

To the left

Kwa kushoto

Backwards

Kwa nyuma

Far

Mbali

Nearby

Karibu

Close to … 

Karibu na …

Here

Hapa

There

Pale

Car / vehicle

Gari

Taxi

Teksi

Bus

Basi

Minibus

Daladala

Train

Treni

Tuktuk

Bajaji

Motorbike taxi

Bodaboda

Bicy

Baiskeli

Airplane

Ndege

What time does the … leave?

… itaondoka saa ngapi?

Is there a … going to … ?

Kuna … kwenda … ? 

I want to get off here

Nataka kushuka hapa

Fare

Nauli

Ticket

Tikiti

Busstand

Bas stendi

Airport

Uwanja wa ndege

Beach

Pwani

Ocean

Bahari

HEALTH

Hospital

Hospitali

Doctor

Daktari (pl. madaktari)

I’m sick

Mimi ni mgonjwa

This (point to spot) hurts

Hii inaumiza

I have diarrhea

Nina hara

I have a fever

Nina homa

I have a cold

Nina mafua

Pharmacy

Duka la dawa

Medicine

Dawa

Painkiller

Painkiller

Antiseptic

Antiseptiki

I have asthma

Nina pumu

I have epilepsy

Nina kifafa

I have diabetis

Nina ugonjwa wa sukari

I’m allergic to …

Siwezi kutumia …. Nina aleji. 

Antibiotics

Antibiotics

Aspirine

Aspirini

Nuts

Karanga

Gluten

Gluten

Diary

Shajara 

OFFICIAL MATTERS & EMERGENCIES

Help!

Msaada!

Please help me 

Naomba msaada

I’ve had an accident

Nimepata ajali

I am lost

Nimepotea 

Please call …

Naomba upigie …

I’ve been robbed

Nimeibiwa

I’ve lost my …

Nimepotesa … yangu 

My … got stolen

Nimeibiwa … 

Police

Polisi 

Police station

Kituo cha polisi 

Please leave me alone

Naomba niache pekeyangu

Go away (strong)

Toka!

Stop!

Acha!

Passport

Passporti

Cellphone

Simu

Bag

Begi 

Key

Ufunguo

Name

Jina

Nationality

Utaifa

Birthday

Siku ya kuzaliwa

Place of birth

Mahali pa kuzaliwa

Gender

Jinsia

Male

Wa kiume

Female

Wa kike

Danger!

Hatari!

The phrases and words in this article are meant to be used by travelers to get by during their stay in Tanzania. It is in no way a full Swahili curriculum and simply combining the mentioned words into sentences will for sure lead to some grammatical and other mistakes but most people should understand what you mean. 

Like this page? Save it for later on your social media or share it directly with your friends or family!
USEFUL SWAHILI WORDS AND PHRASES FOR TRAVELERS