Traditional Maasai Boma Tanzania
Safari and Wildlife
Tessa Winkelman Travel Writer and Content Creator
Safari and Wildlife
6 min

Swahili language for beginners: common Swahili words & phrases

6 min

Are you traveling to Kenya, Tanzania, or any other East African country soon? Then it's useful to know some common Swahili words and phrases. Swahili is the national language of Kenya, Tanzania, and the Democratic Public of Congo and is widely spoken in Uganda, and in smaller numbers in Rwanda, Burundi, Malawi, Mozambique, and North Zambia. It’s one of the easiest African languages to learn, especially if you speak English. A big advantage of the Swahili language is that the pronunciation of Swahili words is exactly how they’re spelled.

Embarking on a journey to learn Swahili easily. We will dive into the most common Swahili words and phrases, in other words: Learn Swahili for beginners! After reading this article, you can say more than just Swahili phrases like hakuna matata. You know how to introduce yourself in Swahili, to greet in Swahili, and you will learn basic Swahili phrases to make traveling in East Africa easier. Embark on your Swahili learning adventure right here!

Swahili Language Origin

Swahili, also known by its local name Kiswahili, is the native language of the Swahili people, who are found primarily in Tanzania, Kenya, and Mozambique. It is one of the most widely used African languages, encompassing more than a dozen main dialects.

The Swahili people are a Bantu ethnic group, inhabiting East Africa's lands. That makes the Swahili language one of the Bantu languages that have been influenced by a variety of other languages, including Arabic, Portuguese, and German. The Bantu language family is a large family of languages spoken by the Bantu people in the southern half of Africa.

Get to know the Maasai in Enonkishu Conservancy

Learn to greet in Swahili

Jambo is a Swahili greeting that means ‘hello’ in English. Mambo refers to ‘how are you’ as well. When greeted with ‘jambo’ you can respond with ‘jambo’. When greeted with Mambo, respond with ‘poa’ (Cool). I found that Jambo is used mostly among tourists, while locals use the word 'mambo' as an informal way (slang) of greeting.

Habari also means ‘Hello’ and is often used when speaking to older people. The best response is 'nzuri', which means ‘I am fine’. Nzuri is a positive word that’s often used in the Swahili language. You can also use it when something is beautiful, good, or nice.

If you would like to refer to a particular part of the day, instead of ‘hello’ in general, it’s best to use ‘habari’. If you want to say 'good morning', you say 'Habari ya (za) asubuhi', for 'good afternoon', use 'Habari za (ya) mchana' and if you want to say ‘good evening’, you say 'Habari ya (za) jioni'. For wishing a ‘good night’ you can say lala salama.

'Ya' is the 'of' used to talk about a single thing in the I- noun class. 'Za' is used for 'of' when speaking of multiple things in that noun class. The difference in the "habari" greeting may vary geographically. They mean the same thing.

The best way to say ‘we will see each other’ or ‘see you later’, is Tutaonana baadaye. It’s often said right before saying ‘goodbye’ which is kwa heri in Swahili. To wish someone a good day before saying ‘kwa heri’ you can say Siku njema, meaning ‘have a good day’.

Traditional Maasai Boma Tanzania



Jambo / Mambo / Habari


Habari za/ya asubuhi

Good morning

Habari za/ya mchana

Good afternoon

Habari za/ya jioni

Good evening

Lala salama

Good night

Tutaonana baadaye

See you later

Kwa heri


Siku njema

Have a good day

Ask how someone is in Swahili

If you are comfortable in trying to start a small conversation in Swahili, you can say ‘how are you’ by asking hujambo?. If you ask two or more people ‘how are you all’ you say hamjambo. If someone asks you how you are doing, you can respond with sijambo which means ‘I am fine’. If you are in a group, you can say leo hatujambo which means ‘we are fine today’.




How are you all?

(name), hujambo?

(name), how are you?


I am fine

Leo hatujambo

We are okay today

Introducing yourself in Swahili

Locals appreciate it if you show interest in their local language and culture. The locals will definitely like it if you introduce yourself in Swahili. To tell someone your name, you can say Jina langu ni [your name] which means ‘my name is…’. To ask the other one's name, you can ask jina lako ni nani? meaning ‘what is your name?’

To tell them where you’re from, you can say ‘mimi ni’ followed by your country. For example, mimi ni Waholanzi (Dutch), mimi ni Wachina (Chinese), mimi ni Wamerekani (American). The plural noun is ‘Sisi ni…’ meaning ‘we are…’.



Jina langu ni…

My name is…

Jina lako ni nani?

What is your name?

Sisi ni Waholanzi / Wachina / Wamerekani

We are Dutch / Chinese / Americans

Mimi ni Waholanzi / Wachina / Wamerekani

I am Dutch / Chinese / Americans

Basic Swahili words to know when traveling

Apart from the above Swahili words and phrases, there are a lot more useful phrases and words to know when traveling to East Africa, like asante (thank you), karibu (welcome), tafadhali (please), and hakuna matata (no worries).

Find more Swahili common phrases and words below!






excuse me

asante (sana)

thank you (very much)


You’re welcome

Hakuna Matata

No worries



Njema, nzuri, salama

Good, fine









Maasai Market in Aitong

Hapana, asante

No, thank you


I don’t understand

Sisemi Kiswahili

I don’t speak Swahili

Unazungumza kingereza?

Do you speak English?

choo kiko wapi?

Where is the toilet?

Ningependa kahawa

I’d like a coffee

Maji, tafadhali

water, please

Bili, tafadhali

The bill, please

Naweza kulipa na kadi ya mikopo?

Can I pay with a credit card?

Asante kwa huduma nzuri

Thank you for the good service

Personal pronouns

In English personal pronouns are (I, you, he, she, we, you, they), and (me, you, him, her, us, you, them), In Swahili, the personal pronouns are ‘Mimi’ (I), ‘wewe’ (you), ‘yeye’ (he/she), ‘sisi’ (we), ‘nyinyi’ (you), and ‘wao’ (they).

The possessive pronouns in Swahili have no feminine or masculine aspect. They depend mainly on the pronouns and the noun class.






You (Singular)






You (plural)



Counting in the Swahili language

Apart from Swahili words and phrases, it’s also useful to count in the Swahili language. Find out how to count from one to ten below!


Learning Swahili for beginners by singing!

In many accommodations, you will be welcomed by singing and dancing staff members. They often sing the catchy Swahili song ‘Jambo Bwana’ which includes several common Swahili phrases and greetings in the Swahili language. Check out the original version by ‘Them Mushrooms’ below.

With the below lyrics and Swahili translation to English, you can sing along!

Jambo, Jambo bwana (hello, hello sir)

Habari gani? (how are you?)

Mzuri sana (very fine)

Wageni, (visitors, guests)

Mwakaribishwa (you have been welcomed)

Kenya yetu (our Kenya)

Hakuna matata (No worries)

The Swahili basics

Practicing is a crucial aspect of mastering any language, and the same holds true for learning Swahili. Whether you're using a Swahili learning app, such as Duolingo, or other resources to learn Swahili online., regular practice not only helps reinforce vocabulary and grammar but also boosts confidence in how to speak Swahili effectively. Using an app to learn Swahili in a fun and engaging way. Try to finish one lesson each day to learn Swahili consistently.

After learning these basics of the Swahili language, you’re ready for your East African adventure. Are you still looking for some inspiration to go on Safari in East Africa? What about a gorilla trekking in Bwindi National Park, a balloon safari in Serengeti National Park, or spotting wildlife on a game drive in the Maasai Mara National Reserve?

Safari salama! (safe trip!)

Mating lions on game drive while learning for safari guide