Kiswahili (Swahili)

  • Key language of communication in East Africa
  • Bantu group from Niger-Congo family
  • Proven to be present in 1st millenium AD
  • Widely spoken but only the 1st language of 4-5 million people with ~45 million using as second language.
  • National language of Kenya & Tanzania, Common in Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Zanzibar, Comoros, eastern Congo, southern Ethiopia, southern Somalia, northern Mozambique, northern Zambia & NW Madagascar
  • Heavily influenced by:
  • Arabic (‘coastal’ –> ‘Swahili’)
  • Europeans spread the language inland
  • Persia
  • Portuguese
  • English (baisikeli – basically,  penseli – pencil, kompyuta – computer)
  • Standard Dialect = urban Zanzabar City
  • Used in Kenya & Tanzania during Precolonial times for missionaries & colonial governments to interact with locals, then used in adminstration, which led to it’s official status in the post-colonial period.
  • First written by the colonialists so it is based on a Roman alphabet and spelled exactly as it sounds.


Alphabet / Sound English words with equivalent sound Alphabet
a father a
ay may  
e   ay
ee bee  
i   ee
o   oh
oh role  
oo moon  
b big bee
c   see
ch chilli  
d din dee
dh this  
f fun ayf
g go jee
h hat ay-chee
j jam jay
k kick kay
l loud ayl
m man aym
n no ayn
ng sing  
ny canyon  
p pig pee
r run (more like a d) ar
s so ays
sh ship  
t tin tee
th thing  
u   oo
v van vee
w win dab al yoo
y yes wa ee
z zoo zayd ee


Articles a ___  = ua __ some ___ =  ___ watu   or   watu ___


Am/is/are  =  ni    Am not/is not/are not  =  si


I = Mimi  We = Sisi


Nouns:  person or animal – singular = m-,  plural = wa-

object – singular & plural n- / j- / no prefix


Nouns –> Adjectives:

  • person or animal – singular & pleural = wa ___
  • object – singular = ya,  plural = za.


Doctor = Daktari

Student = Nafunzi


I am a student doctor  Mimi ni wa nafunzi daktari.
We are student doctors Sisi ni wa nafunzi daktari.


Samahani = Excuse Me        (most useful word!)

This has been your (& my) primer in Swahili. I still don’t understand most things said to me but, Thanks for watching.


About Femme Sans Frontières

I'm an MD with many passions: medicine, travel, family, action & good fun.

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