Learning Swahili from the Source-   Jifunze Kiswahili kutoka kitovuni.

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Kiswahili Beginners



Audio video

The Swahili morphology is similar to that of other Bantu languages. For example, when constructing a syllable just like in all other Bantu languages there are seven structures i.e.

(1)          Consonant and vowel e.g. dada (sister)

(2)          Syllables formed from vowels only e.g. oa (marry)

(3)          Syllables formed from consonants only e.g. mtu (person)

(4)          Syllables formed from more than one consonants and vowel e.g. ngoja (wait)

(5)          Syllables formed from a consonant semi vowel and a vowel e.g. mwalimu (teacher)

(6)          Syllables formed from two consonants a semi vowel and a vowel e.g. mbwa (dog)

Bantu languages have nouns that are grouped into different categories known as noun classes. These divisions are based on grammatical agreement in a sentence brought about by subject noun agreement; Swahili has noun classes which also rely on subject noun agreement.

Lastly, the fact that Swahili language has five vowels (a,e,i,o,u) just like many other Bantu languages qualifies it to be a Bantu language.

Swahili language spread and became an East African lingua franca through factors like trade, religion, internal strife, administration and education.


Swahili is an easy language to learn, especially when it comes to pronunciation. Many Swahili words are pronounced the way they are written. It is however important to know that stress on Swahili words falls on the second last syllable. e.g

Nunua has three syllables, nu-nu-a. The stress will fall on the second nu.

There are 24 letters in the standard Swahili alphabet where Q and X are not used. The following are the letters in standard Swahili:-

A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  R  S  T  U V  W  Y  Z



Swahili language has 5 vowels all of them cardinal as follows:

A  as in ask e.g   anza (start)

E  as in egg            e.g   embe (mango)

I  as in ink              e.g  imba (sing)

O  as in off             e.g omba (pray)

U  as in full             e.g  uta (bow)




In Swahili consonants cannot be pronounced on their own but with a vowel. These are referred to as syllables.

            as in bad

D             as in dive

F              as in father

G             as in guard         

H             as in have

             as in just

K             as in clan/karaoke?

            as in love

           as in must

N             as in nice

P             as in persist

R             as in rice

             as in snap

T              as in trust

V             as in vase

W            as in wonder

             as in yatch

Z              as in zest


Syllables can also be made by combining a consonant with a semi vowel and a vowel, two consonants with a vowel or two consonants with a semi vowel and a vowel and one vowel. Swahili has two semi vowels, w and y. The following examples will serve as an elaboration to this.

Letters      approximate sound                             example

CH           as in church, each                             chumba- room

DH          as in that                                            dhahabu- gold

GH          this sound is not in English                   ghali- expensive

KH           this sound is not in English                  sabalkheri -good morning

MB         as in umber                                         mboga- vegetable

MW        this sound is not in English                    mwaka- year

NG          as in mangoe                                       ngano-wheat

NG’         as in sing                                             ng’ombe- cow

NY          as in Kenya                                          nyumba-house

ND          as in understand                                   ndiyo- yes

NJ            as in enjoy                                          njia- path/method

SH           as in ship                                             shinda

SW         as in sweet                                           Kiswahili

TH           as in thin                                             thelathini

Greetings and Salutations

There are different types of greetings in Swahili which are used at different times and between different people. The following are examples of common Swahili greetings:

Shikamoo is a type of greeting that is used to show respect, mostly used by young people to greet older people. The response is marahaba.

The greeting literally means May I touch your feet? While the reply means Welcome.

Pachika msichana anamshikamoo mzee

Habari, which means news, is widely used. It can be combined with different words to bring out different meanings. For example:

Asubuhi (morning)- Habari ya asubuhi- How is your morning? The response is nzuri, safi, njema, poa, barabara e.t.c (it is okay, good).

Mama (mother) - Habari ya mama? - How is mother? or how are you lady?

Other words that can be used include:

Mchana (afternoon)

Jioni (evening)

Nyumbani (home)

Baba (father)

Safari (journey)

Watoto (children).

In this case then one will come across greetings like Habari za mchana, habari za jioni, habari za nyumbani, habari ya baba, habari ya watoto? e.t.c. In all these instances, the reply to the greetings will be one of the above/ forementioned words.

Another commonly used greeting in Swahili is hujambo?( How are you?). The response is sijambo (I am fine). Hujambo literally means do you have a word? The reply Sijambo means I do not have a word. The same pattern that was observed for Habari can obtain for this greeting also as shown below:

Mama Hajambo? (How is mum?). The response is hajambo (She is fine)

Watoto hawajambo? (How are the kids?). The response is hawajambo (They are fine).

Other greetings include:

Umeamkaje? (How have you woken up?). The response is vizuri, sawa, safi, vyema, barabara e.t.c  (well).

Umeshindaje? (How has been your day?). The response is also vizuri, vyema, poa, safi, sawa e.t.c meaning fine.

U hali gani? (How are you?). The response is salama, sijambo, nzuri, sawa, poa e.t.c meaning peaceful, fine, ok e.t.c.

There are other Swahili greetings that may sound colloquial yet in common use in the Swahili world. One such greeting is Mambo! and the reply is poa, safi, sawa e.t.c.

When one comes visiting you in your house or office the salutation he or she uses is Hodi! Meaning May I come in! and the reply is Karibu meaning You are welcome. Kwaheri meaning Bye is used when one is leaving where the reply is Karibu or Karibu tena meaning You are welcome again/ you are welcome any time.


In this section we have looked at the basic greetings and salutations in Swahili. We wish to put these greetngs into practice by way of conversation between two people: Juma and his grandfather called babu in Swahili.

Juma has gone to his grandfather’s house to see him. When he arrives, his grandfather (babu) welcomes him and they exchange greetings. Babu asks him about his parents while Juma asks babu about his grandmother (nyanya). In groups of twos, read the conversation below as you note the greetings and the replies.


Juma: Hodi!

Babu: Karibu

Juma: Shikamoo babu.

Babu: Marahaba mjukuu wangu. Hujambo?

Juma: Sijambo.

Babu: Habari za nyumbani.

Juma: Nzuri sana. Nyanya hajambo?

Babu: Hajambo. Baba na mama hawajambo?

Juma: Hawajambo.

Babu: Karibu kiti.

Juma: Asante babu.

Further Exercises on Greetings and Salutations

Two students, Peter and James, have met at the school where they are both learning Swahili. Peter is a bank manager and comes from America while James is a doctor, and comes from Germany.

They exchange greetings then introduce themselves i.e their names, professions and where they come from. Read through their conversation as you note the greetings, their replies, the names of their countries in Kiswahili and even their professions in Kiswahili language.

Peter:  Habari yako?

James: Nzuri. Umeamkaje?

Peter: Vizuri, asante. Jina langu ni Peter.

James: Jina langu ni James. Nimefurahi kukutana na wewe.

Peter: Nami pia. Unafanya nini hapa Kenya?

James: Mimi ni daktari. Na wewe je?

Peter: Mimi ni meneja wa benki. Ninatoka Marekani.  Na wewe unatoka wapi?

James: Mimi ninatoka Ujerumani.

Peter: Ulianza kusoma Kiswahili lini?

James: Nilianza kusoma Juni.

Peter: Mimi nimeanza kusoma Kiswahili leo.

James: Vizuri. Utafurahia kusoma Kiswahili. Ni lugha nzuri tena rahisi.

James: Kweli! Ahsante, ninaenda darasani sasa hivi.

Peter:Kwa heri tutaonana.

James:Kwa heri

While introducing oneself and others a very important component of the structure of Swahili language is used i.e. NI. NI used together with different personal pronouns brings out the meaning of;

                Mimi ni I am

                Wewe ni  you are

                Yeye ni he/she is

                Sisi ni  we are

                Nyinyi ni                you (plural) are

                Wao ni  they are

NI is used to introduce nationalities, names, gender and professions.For example

Jina langu ni james          my name is james

Mimi ni daktari  I am a doctor

Mimi ni meneja                I am a manager


Peter and James have met again. Peter introduces his wife (mke) and kid (mtoto) to James and here is their conversation:

James: Habari za asubuhi?

Peter: Nzuri sana.

James: (Addressing Lena and Tom) Hamjambo!

Lena and Tom: Hatujambo.

James: (Turning to Peter) Aah! Tumekutana tena!

Peter: Ndiyo! Tunasubiri teksi. Unaenda wapi?

James: Mimi ninaenda sokoni kununua matunda.

Peter: Kutana na familia yangu. Huyu ni Lena. Lena ni mke wangu. Yeye ni mwalimu.

           Na huyu ni mtoto wangu. Yeye ni Tom

Lena: Nimefurahi kukutana na wewe.

James: Asante sana.

Peter: Kwa heri.

James: Kwa heri. Asante.

Dear student, having introduced you to Swahili greetings and salutations and having gained this much confidence in your Swahili abilities, please analyse the greeting patterns and procedures used in the following conversation. Your feedback will go a long way in making us better educators as it encourages those who will come after you. As you loudly read out the conversation between James’ and Greg’s families remember that that our main focus now is still greetings and salutations. However, because you are a kin student of the Swahili language, take note of any other linguistic developments that you may need to be clarified for the benefit of your full competence in the nearest future.

Family Ties

Like other African nations, the Swahili nation attaches great importance to national and family ties and relationships. Below is a conversation in which some basic terms denoting nationalities and relationships have been used.

The following are descriptions of James’ and Vincent’s families.

James’ family    

Mimi ninaitwa James. Baba yangu anaitwa Jeff. Yeye ni fundi wa magari au makanika( mechanic in English) na mama yangu anaitwa Tiziana. Yeye ni mtafiti ( researcher in English). Dada yangu (my sister) anaitwa Ann na ndugu yangu ( and my brother) anaitwa Gregor. Rafiki yangu ni ( my friend is) Larry. Anaishi London (He lives/ stayes in London).

Vincent’s family

Huyu ni Vincent. Yeye ni Mfaransa lakini anaishi Nairobi. Anafanya kazi katika ubalozi wa Ufaransa kama karani(clerk). Mama yake anaitwa Helen. Helen ni daktari na anaishi Paris. Baba ya Vincent anaitwa Bernard. Yeye pia anafanya kazi Paris ambapo ni mwanahabari. Dada yakeVincent anaitwa Cecile. Yeye ni mwananfunzi; anasoma Marekani. Ndugu yake ni mwalimu. Anafundisha Kifaransa. Anaitwa Laurent.

In the above talk, you may have noted that the speaker emphasizes names of countries and towns as articulated in the Swahili language. Please note that a Frenchman is called Mfaransa, a German called Mjerumani and a Briton called Mwingereza from England. The plurals of nationalities begin with wa and so it becomes Wafaransa, Wajerumani, and Waingereza in that order.

To built the confidence of the student and given the central role played by greetings and salutations in the Swahili world, we wish to give the following conversation on the same as the final exercise on the topic. If by the end of the exercise you will still have problems, please wait for the Intermediary programme that will be slightly more elaborate on the topic or directly consult our institute. Welcome:-


Tom and Simon have met at a shopping mall. Their conversation goes as thus:-

Tom: Hujambo?

Simon: Sijambo. U hali gani?

Tom: Salama. Ninaitwa Tom. Wewe unaitwa nani?

Simon: Mimi ni Simon. Ninatoka Nigeria. U natoka wapi?

Tom: Ninatoka Malawi, lakini ninaishi hapa Kenya. Mimi ni rubani ( I am a pilot). Wewe unafanya kazi gani?

Simon: Mimi ni mhadhiri ( I am a lecturer).

Tom: Unafunza wapi?

Simon: Ninafunza hapa Kenya.

Tom:  Unajua Kiswahili?

Simon: Ninajua kidogo kwa sababu ninasoma Kiswahili.

Tom: Mimi pia ninataka kujifunza Kiswahili.

Simon: (He removes a business card and hands it over to Tom) Piga simu kwa nambari hii,kadi hii ni ya mkuu wa shule ya Kiswahili.

Tom: Asante sana.

Simon: Karibu. Nimefurahi kukutana na wewe.

Tom: Kwa heri.

Tom: Kwa heri. Tutaonana tena.


A basic Swahili sentence has the following structure:

Noun or Personal pronoun +verb (subject prefix+tense sign+verb stem)+an object.

The personal pronouns are just like in English, three, i.e.

Mimi (I), wewe (you), yeye (he/she) Sisi (we/us), Nyinyi(you, plural),Wao(them)

These personal pronouns have their subject prefixes which come before the tense sign/ marker.

Personal pronoun                            subject

Mimi                                                       ni-

Wewe                                                    u-

Yeye                                                       a-

Sisi                                                           tu-

Nyinyi                                                    m-

Wao                        wa-

Having briefly looked at what is expected of and at the Swahili sentence structure at this basic level, may we now look at the concept of numbers in Swahili as we hope to built on the structure of the Swahili sentence in subsequent levels. Welcome.


As a visitor in the Swahili speaking world, one may want to know how much money he or she has to pay for a service and in the Swahili language for it is a lingua franca in the region. It is against this background that this section is devoted to numbers/ numerals in Swahili. This devotion is devided in sections as below:-

Part (1)

0              Sifuri, nunge, bila

1              Moja, mosi

2              Mbili

3              Tatu

4              Nne

5              Tano

6              Sita

7              Saba

8              Nane

9              Tisa, kenda

10           Kumi

Part 2 (11 to 20)

11           Kumi na moja

12           Kumi na mbili

13           Kumi  na tatu

14           Kumi na nne

15           Kumi na tano

16           Kumi na sita

17           Kumi na saba

18           Kumi na nane

19           Kumi na tisa

20           Ishirini, Makumi mawili

In English, kumi na moja can be directly translated as “ten and one”.  This is the case for other tens, up to ninety. It should also be noted that one way of easily learning the language, especially to do with tens, is to be literally practical and so call 20, 40, and 70 as makumi mawili, makumi manne and makumi saba in that order. This obtains in a Swahili dialect called Kingwana that is mainly used in D.R of the Congo.

Part 3 (tens)

10           Kumi

20           Ishirini

30           Thelathini

40           Arobaini

50           Hamsini

60           Sitini

70           Sabini

80           Themanini

90           Tisini


More examples

21     Ishirini na moja

32           Thelathini na mbili

43           Arobaini na tatu

54           Hamsini

65           Sitini na tano

76           Sabini na sita

86           Themanini na sita

97           Tisini na saba

98           Tisini na nane

99           Tisini na tisa


Important fractions

There are occasions when commodities are sold in fractions. Due to this, therefore, it is important that a student of Swahili learns the most important fractions in the language. These fractions are as follows:-

½        nusu

1/3       thuluthi

¼         robo

3/4       robo tatu


Please read out the following Swahili sentences as you note the fractions used:-

(a)          Naomba nusu kilo ya nyama ya mbuzi.

(b)          Idadi ya wanafunzi wanaosoma Kiswahili haizidi thuluthi moja ya wanafunzi wote.

(c)           Robo mbili hutengeneza nusu.

(d)          Robo tatu ya kitu hupungua robo kukamilika.

As a way of showing that you comprehend the most important fractions in Swahili, attempt forming sentences using robo, nusu, thuluthi and robo tatu.


Days of the week

In Swahili, a week is known as juma or wiki. The days of the week rotate around Friday, which is the most important day to Muslims. The day after Friday, Saturday- Jumamosi, is considered to be the first day of the week i.e Juma (week) and mosi (first). 

 The following are the days of the week:

Jumamosi                            Saturday

Jumapili                                Sunday

Jumatatu                             Monday

Jumanne                             Tuesday

Jumatano                            Wednesday

Alhamisi                               Thursday

Ijumaa                                  Friday

Other important terms related to this topic

Jana                  yesterday

Leo                   today

Kesho                tomorrow

Kesho kutwa      the day after tomorrow

Mtondo              the day after kesho kutwa

Juzi                    the day before yesterday

Juzijuzi               the few days ago, (usually between 3 to 5 days)


To test your mastery of the days of the week, attempt answering the following questions regarding the topic:-

(a)          Leo ni siku gani?

(b)          Jana ilikuwa siku gani?

(c)           Wewe huenda kanisani kusali siku gani?

(d)          Juzi ilikuwa siku gani?

(e)          Juma/wiki  moja huwa na siku ngapi?

(f)           Siku kabla ya kesho huitwaje?

(g)          Ikiwa leo ni Ijumaa, kesho itakuwa siku gani?

(h)          Ikiwa leo ni Jumanne, jana ilikuwa siku gani?(student not yet introduced to ikiwa, kabla ya, huwa etc.)

Inaendelea kukarabatiwa


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