What writing systems does this language use? edit

Although originally written in Arabic script, Swahili writing is now based on the Latin alphabet that was introduced by Christian missionaries and colonial governments.

The Swahili alphabet now contains all the same letters as English with the exception of Q and X, with Q only being used in loanwords and foreign proper names.

How many people speak this language? edit

About 5 million people speak Swahili as a native language. About 80 million people speak it as a secondary language. It is more common as a second language because it is used as a language of business in an area where there are many different tribal languages. People need to learn Swahili to buy and sell things with people who have other native languages.


native language — the first language that a person learnt as a child.


secondary language — any language that a person learns to speak after the first language that they learned at home.

Where is this language spoken? edit

Distribution of Swahili in Africa

People primarily speak Swahili in Zanzibar and Tanzania. There are smaller communities of Swahili speaking people in Burundi, Kenya, Mayotte, Mozambique, Oman, Rwanda, Somalia, South Africa, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, and the United States.

What is the history of this language? edit

It is uncertain where or how Swahili first came about but it is general believed that Swahili speaking people have occupied their present territories, hugging the Indian Ocean, since well before AD 1000.

It appears to some researchers that Swahili started in a number of Arabic trading posts. People speaking different dialects of Bantu, a local language, found that it was difficult to communicate with one another, so they adapted Arabic and Bantu to create a language for business, Swahili.

Who are some famous authors or poets in this language? edit

Utend̠i wa Tambuka, which means "The Story of Tambuka", is one of the oldest known pieces of literature in Swahili. The author of the story identifies himself as Mwengo, son of Athumani or Osman. Little is known of him. The story is about "the Byzantine-Arab Wars" and "Byzantine-Ottoman Wars" between the Muslims and Byzantines, covering a period from 628 AD to 1453 AD (the Fall of Constantinople). Like other early Swahili writing it was written with the Arabic script.

What are some basic words in this language that I can learn? edit

Majibu Responses
Ndiyo Yes
Hapana No
Labda Maybe
Mahamkio Greetings
Jambo ! Hello !
Hujambo ? How are you ?
Sijambo I'm fine
Habari gani ? How are you ?
Salama Fine
Hodi ? Anyone home ?
Karibu ! You're welcome !
Karibuni ! You're welcome ! (plural)
Kuachana Good-byes
Kwa heri Good-bye
Kwa herini Good-bye (plural)
Tutaonana See you later
Tutaonana kesho See you tomorrow
Usiku mwema ! Good night !
Lala salama ! Sweet dreams !
Maneno ya maana Useful phrases
Unasema kiingereza ? Do you speak English ?
Choo kiko wapi ? Where are the toilets ?
Tafadhali Please
Asante Thank you
Asante sana Thank you very much
Jina lako nani ? what's your name ?
Jina langu... My name is...
Pole ! Sorry !
Safari njema ! Have a good journey !
Maneno machache Some words
Mimi I/me
Wewe You
Yeye He/him/she/her
Baba Papa/père
Mama Maman/mère
Nzuri Good
Mbaya Bad
Hapa Here
Hakuna There isn't
Hakuna matata No problem
Nipe... Give me...
Chakula Food
Maji Water
Gari car
Shule School
Soko Market
Kituo cha mabasi Bus stop
Stesheni Railway Station
Polisi Police
Askari Soldier
Kitabu Book
Simu Telephone
Kusoma to read/study
Kula to eat
Kunywa to drink
Yangu My/mine
Yako Your/yours
Wanaume Gentlemen
Wanawake Women
Nina I have
Sina I don't have
Nambari Numbers
Moja One
Mbili Two
Tatu Tree
Nne Four
Tano Five
Sita Six
Saba Seven
Nane Eight
Tisa Nine
Kumi Ten
Wanyama Animals
Paka Cat
Mbwa Dog
Ndege Bird
Samaki Fish
Ng'ombe Cow
Mbuzi Goat
Farasi Horse
Punda Donkey
Punda milia Zebra
Simba Lion
Twiga Giraffe
Ndovu/Tembo Elephant
Swala Gazelle
Kiboko Hippopotamus
Kifaru Rhinoceros
Mbogo/Nyati Buffalo
Nyoka snake

What is a simple song/poem/story that I can learn in this language? edit

Here are some interesting Swahili sayings that you can learn.

Swahili Literal Translation What it means

Bahati ya mwenzio usiilalie mlango wazi.

"Do not leave the (front) door open and go to bed just because someone you know did the same thing but nothing happened to him."

Don't be reckless just because others were lucky.

Usitukane wakunga na uzazi ungalipo.

"Don't insult the midwives as long as you are still able to bear children."

Don't offend people that you might need help from later.

Samaki mkunje angali mbichi.

"Bend a fish while it is (still) fresh/wet."

Children should be given guidance early in life (before it is too late).

Ahadi ni deni.

"A promise is a debt."

You have to keep your promises.

Riziki ni kujaribu.

"Sustenance is to try."

If you try your best, you can earn your living.

Wema hauozi.

"Mercifulness does not rot/decay."

If you are merciful to others they will never forget you for that.

References edit

Mwanasimba : Online Swahili course for beginners
Swahili Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
Wikipedia: Swahili Language
A Selection of Common Swahili Proverbs/Sayings/Maxims and Riddles