Introduction to Swahili

Learning how to speak a language that you might not be familiar with, like Swahili, can be a daunting task, especially for complete beginners to language learning. Contrary to what you might think, Swahili is actually much easier to learn than a lot of other languages out there, even ones you might think are easier. Not only is Swahili a relatively easy language to learn, there are so many advantages to learning how to speak it fluently.

Swahili or Kiswahili, one of the most commonly spoken languages in all of Africa, is a Bantu language from within the Niger–Congo language family. Swahili is the national language of Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania and is also spoken in Burundi, Rwanda, Zaire, Somalia, South Africa, Mayotte, Mozambique, Congo, and more. While there are only around 5 million native speakers of Swahili, there are approximately 135 million people who speak Swahili as a second language.

Due to extensive exposure to the Arabic language from Arabic speaking traders in the past, a considerable portion of Swahili words are derived from Arabic vocabulary. A large part of this can also be attributed to the Swahili people reading the Quran in Arabic writing. Swahili also has quite a few words derived from English, German, Hindi, French, and others as a result of contact with foreign traders.

Originally, Swahili was written in the Arabic script as it was heavily influenced by Arab and Persian cultures. Over time, starting in the 19th century, it became increasingly common to write Swahili using the Latin alphabet.

Differences Between Tanzanian and Kenyan Swahili

Although Swahili is the official language of both Tanzania and Kenya, there are actually quite a few differences between the way Tanzanians and Kenyans speak the language. For one, Tanzanians tend to speak more formally while Kenyans tend to speak a much more colloquial or casual form of Swahili.

In Kenya, the use of English is much more widespread than in Tanzania. Going out in public or reading the newspaper, you'll notice that English is used a great deal whereas in Tanzania, the majority of texts are written in Swahili. Although English is a national language for both Tanzania and Kenya, Tanzanians generally aren't able to communicate in English nearly as well as Kenyans despite being taught English in school. Much of this can be attributed to the fact that Kenyans are exposed to the English language much more than Tanzanians as a result of mass media, thus getting more practical application experience.


This is largely due to the fact that Kenya saw a large influx of British colonists and settlers starting from the late 1800s. Over the following decades, under the British rule, the local people of Kenya were viewed as the lowest social class while the British stood at the top of the social hierarchy. For this reason, Swahili was seen as a language for low class people while English was considered a high class language. This resulted in an aversion to Swahili and an affinity to the English language. Unlike Kenya, Tanzania was never colonized by any other countries so most if not all of local Tanzanian culture and language was preserved even to this day.

Some might say that Tanzanian Swahili is closer to the pure form of Swahili. Throughout the years, as Swahili spread from one region to the next, it would see some slight variations as a result of the cultural nuances or leanings of the corresponding regions. Because of this, Tanzanian Swahili uses more complicated grammar than Kenyan Swahili. On the other hand, Kenyans tend to speak a more simplified version of Swahili and is more likely to borrow from English vocabulary.

Reasons to Learn Swahili

As the most spoken African language with over 100 million speakers, Swahili is becoming increasingly important for anyone looking to go to Africa, whether it be for business, travel, or living purposes. The great thing about Swahili is that it's not exclusive to one or even a few countries. Swahili is widely spoken throughout the entire continent of Africa, namely East Africa. As more and more businesses look to expand to different parts of Africa for various business opportunities, the demand for Swahili speakers will increase accordingly.

Although English proficiency among African countries is steadily increasing, being able to speak Swahili and interact in the local language will not only allow you to communicate more effectively, but you'll be viewed much more favorably as someone who puts in the time and effort to learn the language of the local people. Knowing how to speak Swahili will make it easier for you to build trust between yourself and potential clients and business partners. You'll also have a much easier time meeting new people and making local friends.

Swahili is actually much easier to learn than people might expect. You could even say that it's the easiest African language for an English speaker to learn. Swahili is a phonetic language, meaning words are pronounced just like they're spelled. This means you don't have to worry about any hidden sounds or seemingly random drops in sounds for the most part. The grammar and sentence structure of Swahili also tends to be simpler since it doesn't use as many tenses as other languages like German or Russian.

Basics of Swahili

Learning how to speak Swahili isn't difficult, even for complete beginners. Below, you'll find a chart of essential basic phrases that can help you get started on your way to conversational fluency. You'll also find a few examples of audio clips so you have some idea of how Swahili sounds like.

English Swahili
Hello. Habari.
What's your name? Jina lako nani?
My name's ... Jina langu ni ...
Where are you from? Unatokea wapi?
I'm from ... Ninatokea ...
How old are you? Una miaka mingapi?
I'm twenty years old. Nina miaka ishirini.
Goodbye. Kwa heri.
Excuse me. Samahani
How are you? Haujambo?
I'm fine. Sijambo.
I'm sorry. Samahani.
Thank you. Ahsante.
I don't understand. Sielewi.
I don't know. Sijui.

What's your name?

Where are you from?

Start Learning Swahili Now

Now that you have a good basic understanding of Swahili, you can start learning how to speak right away! With Glossika, you can try out Swahili for completely free and get a taste of what it's like to really learn the language.

Glossika focuses more on the Tanzanian version of Swahili as it's much closer than Kenyan Swahili to Swahili in its purest form. Start learning Swahili now and you'll get 1,000 free reps of audio training to build a strong foundation in the language and get well on your way to reaching fluency!

Sign up on Glossika and get started!