Although you do not need Swahili to visit Kenya, you may want to know a few phrases. Here are some of the more common Swahili words you may hear and want to use. If you click on the Swahili words you will be able to hear the pronunciations. The audio files are in wav format.
These are basically the equivalent of “Hi, how are you?” with the response being “good or well”.
To ask where something is you would say “wapi?” along with whatever it is you want to find. For example to ask where the post office is you’d say “Wapi posta?” Here are some other places you may want to find…
A form of transportation
Even if you were to say “Wapi post office?” mixing Swahili and English that’s alright. It’s perfectly acceptable to mix the two languages in Kenya.
Other Useful Phrases:
Thank you very much
How many shillings?
How much money?
Oh yes, if you hear someone talking about “mzungu” – that’s you!
Interesting Swahili Notes
Did you know that the Swahili word for “Swahili” is Kiswahili?
The Swahili word nyanya means “tomato” – it also means “grandmother”.
In English you might say “That smells!” implying something smells bad. You could also say “That smells bad!”. To say something smelled good you’d say “That smells good!” With Swahili there are two words for the verb “to smell”. The first is kunuka which means “to smell bad”. The second is kunukia which means “to smell good”. You don’t need to stipulate if it’s good or bad – just be sure you use the right verb.
Chai is a common word in Kenya. It means ‘tea’. However, it is also used in reference to a bribe.