Swahili 101

Always wanted to learn another language?

Try out some Swahili. You never know when you might need it.

Five Polite Words

The first thing to learn are the Five Polite Words which are used often in Tanzania. It is a very polite society.

  • You are welcome  Karibu ~ Care-ree-boo ~ Sounds like Caribou, the animal, but with a longer ee sound in the middle
  • Thank you   Asante ~ Ah-sonh-tay  ~ Use it often for every small thing done for you.
  • Hello
    • To one person Hau Jambo ~ How Jam-bow ~ The last syllable is ‘bow’ as in ‘bow and arrow’.
    • To two or more Ham Jambo ~ Ham Jam-bow
    • Jambo the shortened version is heard frequently, it is the giveaway that you are not from around there.
  • Goodbye   Kwa Heri ~ Quah Hairy ~ The first symbol is Qu as in Quiet – not the key sound. There are several other ways to say good-bye, this appears to be the polite way sure to be understood
  • I am sorry   Pole ~ Poh-lay ~ This is used frequently for any minor inconvenience or issue. “Sorry, you are so hot.” “Sorry, you can’t find the bank.”  Sorry, sorry and more sorry.
    • Be warned…if you say Pole twice in a row, you aren’t saying I am sorry twice, Pole Pole means slowly.

As with many cultures, any attempt is appreciated especially when accompanied by a smile and a sense of humour. 


Next lesson Count to Ten:

  • One – moja ~ moh-jah
  • Two -mbili ~ m-bee-lee
  • Three -tato ~ tah-too
  • Four -nna ~nn-nay
  • Five -tano ~ tah-no
  • Six -seta ~ see-tah
  • Seven -saba ~ sah-bah
  • Eight – nana ~nah-nay
  • Nine -kisa ~ kee-sah
  • Ten -kumi ~koo-mee

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