Tag Archives: Kiswahili

Kiswahili Recap

Kiswahili is in one sense simple – each letter has one sound and one sound only.
In another sense it is incredibly difficult to learn which I will attempt to explain below.

  1. Nouns belong in classes (analogous to the masculine and feminine in French but more complex). The classes are designated by a noun prefix which changes (or doesn’t!) when in plural. I have so far been introduced to
    1. Ki-Vi Class

      1. Kisu / Visu (Knife / Knives)
      2. Kiti / Viti  (Chair / Chairs)
      3. Kiazi / Viazi (Potato/ PotatoesSo far so good – but there are other words in this class which have different prefixes
      4. Chumba / Vyumba (Room / Rooms)
      5. Chombo / Vyombo (Dish / Dishes)
      6. Choo / Vyoo (Toilet / Toilets)
    2. M-Mi Class

      1. Mto / Mito (River / Rivers or Pillow / Pillows)
      2. Mti / Miti (Tree / Trees)
      3. Mkate / Mikate (Bread / Bread (pl)Other words in this class
      4. Mwaka / Miaka (Year / Years)
      5. Mwezi / Miezi  (Month / Months)
    3. Ji-Ma Class

      1. Jino / Meno (Tooth / Teeth)
      2. Jiko / Meko (Stove / Stoves)
      3. Jina / Majina (Name / Names)Then it gets more random
      4. Dawa / Madawa (Medicine / Medicines)
      5. Kabati / Makabati (Cupboard / Cupboards)
      6. Ziwa / Maziwa (Lake / Lakes but Maziwa also means Milk)
    4. N Class

      1. Meza / Meza (Table / Tables)
      2. Barua Pepe / Barua Pepe (Email / Emails)
      3. Mbwa / Mbwa (Dog / Dogs)N class w0rds are the same in plural and singular (like Sheep in English)
    5.  M-Wa

      1. Mtoto / Watoto (Child / Children)
      2. Mwalimo / Walimo (Teacher / Teachers)
      3. Megeni / Wageni (Guest / Guests)
    6. Odd Words
      These don’t fit into anycategory above and are singular nouns

      1. Mimi (I)
      2. Wewe (You)
      3. Yeye (He / She –  there is no difference)
      4. Sisi (We)
      5. Ninyi (You all)
      6. Wao (They)
  2. Adjectives to have prefixes whichare determined by the noun classes above and the prefix is further determined by whether the word starts with a consonant or a vowel
    1. Ki-Vi class
      1. Kisu kidogo  / Visu vidogo  (Small Knife / Knives)
      2. Kikombe cheupe / Vikombe vyeupe (White cup / cups)
    2. M-Mi class
      1. Mti mrefu / Miti mirefu (Tall tree / trees)
      2. Mzigo mwepesi / Mizigo myepesi ( Light package / packages)
    3. Ji-Ma class
      1. Gari kubwa / Magari makubwa (Big car / cars)
      2. Sanduku jeusi / Masanduku meusi (Black trunk / trunks)There is an exception for the adjective (-pya meaning new)
      3. Tunda jipya / Matunda mapya (New fruit / fruits)
    4. N class
      1. adjectives beginning d,z,g or j the adjective starts with n
        1. Zawadi ndogo (small gift)
      2. adjectives beginning b the adjective starts with m
        1. Ndizi mbivu (ripe banana)
      3. adjectives beginning with other consonants – no prefix
        1. Sufuria kuu kuu (old cooking pot)
      4. adjectives beginning with a vowel start ny
        1. Chai nyeusi (black tea)
    5. M-Wa class
      1. Mtoto mzuri / Watoto wazuri (good child / children)
      2. Mzee mwepesi / Wazee wepesi (swift elder)
  3. There are changes to nouns when put intoMahali class – this is all to do with place andposition
    1. The nouns gain an  -ini ending  if theywere intended for storage (putting things or people inside) orlocation
      1. kitanda (hut) becomes kitandini
      2. mto (mountain) becomes mtoni
      3. duka (shop) becomes dukani
      4. nyumba (house) becomesnyumbaniThings which were never intended for storage but are used as such need to have the word kwenye added ahead of the noun
      5. kwenye gari (car)
      6. kwenye sufuria (cooking pot)
    2. The nounis followed by a place marker and the suffix-na
      1. kuna indicates in the area of
        e.g. nyumbani kunapendeza – the area of the house is beautiful
      2. pana indicates the exact location
        e.g. nyumbani panapendeza – the house is beautiful
      3. mna indicates inside
        e.g. nyumbanimnapendeza – the inside of the house is beautifulAdding ha in front indicates the opposite
        e.g. hakuna , hapana, hamna
  4. Thefinal grouping of words indicates you are with something (there is no concept of ownership in Swahili – you own nothing you are justin possession of it) butcan be seen as equivalent to I have etc
    1. Nina kompyuta (I have a computer)
      Sina kompyuta (I have no computer)
    2. Una gari (You have a car)
      Huna gari (You have no car)
    3. Ana twiga ( He/she has a giraffe)
      Hana twiga (He /she has no giraffe)
    4. Tuna maembe (we have mangoes)
      Hatuna maembe (we have no mangoes)
    5. Mna ajali (you all  have an accident)
      Hamna ajali (you all have no accident)
    6. Wana maziwa (they have milk)
      Hawana maziwa (they have no milk)

      Some confusion here as the word Hamna means not inside as well as You all have no. So you have to know the context.

This is a summary of many weeks of study at the language school – but illustrates the complexity of learning a language which is so different to English. If you have read this far well done. For me this has been a blog and a revision session in one.

Language Learner

Learning a new languages was always going to be a challenge. Three months on I have worked through the greetings, introductions, numbers and times. I have been introduced to the various noun classes (Ki-Vi, Ji -Ma, M-Mi and N class) which are used to indicate singular and plural and the various tenses (present, present irregular, present regular, relevant past, irrelevant past, sooner than expected, expected), negatives, Mahali class 1 and 2 (all about placement of objects), there’s a lot to learn.

The lessons are good but retention is hard especially with so many beginnings and endings to the verbs and nouns. Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever get there.

Basic sentence structure consists of a subject prefix based on the noun class a tense marker and a verb, all very different to English.

Personal pronouns are indicated by a prefix ahead of the verb.

There is a logic to it all and unlike English all letters have a consistent meaning, of course teaching in a n English environment does not help. Even so it is right to get some understanding of Kiswahili and attempt to make some conversation with Tanzanians and understand something of their culture.

Most recently I have been looking at Mahali class which is all is out placement of objects (inside, on or in the vicinity of another object given a suffix of -ni)

So if you wanted to know where the cup was specifically (e.g in a cupboard) you might say

Kikombe kimo kabatini (the cup is in the cupboard)

alternatively you might say

Kabatini mna kikombe (the cupboard is where the cup is)

The mo / mna indicating inside

The plural (cups) would be

Vikombe vimo kabatini (Cups are are in the cupboard)


Kabatini mna vikombe (the Cupboard is where the cups are)

If you wanted a more general location e.g. The cup is somewhere in the house (indicated by ko / kuna)

Kikombe kiko nyumbani

or the house has a cup in it somewhere

Nyumbani kuna Kikombe

In plural

Vikombe viko nyumbani

Nyumbani kuna vikombe

If the cup where specifically on the table (indicated by po / pana)

Kikombe kipo mezani

Or the table is specifically where the cup is

Mezani pana kikombe


Vikombe vipo mezani

Mezani pana vikombe

The negative is indicated by the prefix ha-
Kabatini hamna vikombe
Nyumbani hakuna vikombe
Mezani hapana vikombe

mna become hamna

kuna becomes hakuna

pana becomes hapana

This phraseology is how you end up with the phrase Hakuna Matata (no worries – think Lion King). In other words in general there are no problems

It is also the origin of two words used for no in Swahili – hapana and hamna.

Hamna is considered polite e.g. Hamna pesa meaning “I have no money inside (my wallet /bag /pocket etc)”.

Hapana pesa would be very rude meaning something like “look here I have no money”

It’s all very interesting

Taking the plunge

I have finally taken the plunge and after ten weeks here embarked upon a language course. Living in the British bubble that is Isamilo School has offered precious little opportunity to learn the lingo. Consequently my Kiswahili vocabulary is limited to a few phrases e.g. Hujambo (a form of hello), Kwaheri (a form of goodbye) and phrases such as Samahani (excuse me), assante (please), kidogo (a little), sana (very), but little more. Anita has learnt fast and well which has been both encouraging and daunting. I have tended to rely on her when we’re in town.
Now it’s time I learned for myself. Yesterday I embarked on a course at the Language School where Anita has been learning. My teacher is Mama Salala, a German ex-pat who has become immersed in Tanzania culture . Having someone of a European background but who is fluent in Kiswahili has been a great help.
I have signed up for two hour long lessons per week from 6 to 7 each evening on Wednesday and Thursday. The methods are quite traditional with reading speaking and writing, but the lessons are engaging and there is a mix of culture and language throughout. The hour passes quickly!
Thus far I have learned the many different greetings and farewells in Kiswahili and their cultural significance. I now know a number of ways of saying hello and the various responses you give.
Today we focused on farewells and I realise my Kwaheri was inaccurate in almost all circumstance (except when leaving the house of an individual. Most times the phrase Karibu Tena or Karibuni Tena (pl.) should be used. On the street either Haya (OK), Baadae (later!) can be used or Kesho! (Tomorrow!) – not Kwaheri

Another goodbye is

Haya tutaonana (we’ll meet again)

The response being

Mungu akipenda (God willing)

However more informally I will say


Nina fahamu Kiswahili kidogo

T Minus 28

With 4 weeks to go it’s about time I made a start learning some Swahili. So I have embarked on a 30 day Pimsleur course. The dates don’t quite work but I’ll either do a couple of doubles or else stretch it across (there is a long flight at the end of August after all!)

Today was the rudiments of greeting and asking if you understand Swahili or English.

Hence the title translates as “I speak a little Swahili”.

Other phrases / words include

Samahani = Excuse Me

Hapana = no

Ndiyo = yes

Kiingereza = English

Kiswahili = Swahili

Una = you

Nina = I

Bwana = sir

Dada = miss (young)

Kidogo = a little

Fahamu = know / understand

So if you have followed this

Una fahamu Kiswahali kidogo

Speaking the Lingo!!

T minus 179

Thought it was about time I (Anita) had a go at ‘blogging’ so here goes…

20+ years ago I was living in Malawi and was speaking and teaching in the local language ‘Chichewa’.


Teaching a health prevention class
“Mwana ku mwana” (Child to child),
in a rural Malawian village (1992)

In Tanzania, it seems that another Bantu language ‘Kiswahili’ (ie Swahili) is spoken.  “Great :), having learned one it can’t be that hard to learn a 2nd one surely!”, I naively thought, until I started studying a Learn Swahili book and then the confusion set in.  I thought the way to approach it would be comparing the 2 languages but I ended up getting very muddled, there seem to be more noun classes (though I haven’t counted them) and some of the words have very different meanings eg the ‘na’ prefix in Chichewa indicates the past, but in Swahili it means the present!!


Me, teaching a health lesson

So I went to plan B which has been to forget the Chichewa and learn Swahili using an audio language learning programme.  It takes just 30 mins a day, and today will be lesson 10.  This seems to be working much better and I now know how to order 2 beers and say useful phrases such as “I would like to buy something” “Where would you like to eat?” and “I want a cup of tea/coffee with you”.  This way the Chichewa knowledge seems to be helping as some nouns are similar eg the word for house is “nyumba” in Chichewa and “nyumbani” in Swahili.  Of course the test will be when I try it out with someone who can actually speak Kiswahili!!


Hopefully once I’ve gone through the oral lessons, I can then go back to the book and it’ll then make more sense – well that’s the plan!!!

Not forgetting Swahili Bubble Bath 🙂 (edit – Graham) and your cousin Helen!!