Greetings are an essential part of every culture and daily conversations. On your visit to Tanzania or the East African region, you’ll want to be familiar with some common greetings. My aim here, is to help you learn Swahili greetings that you will hear often. In fact, you will hear and use most of these several times a day. Don’t fret if your language skills aren’t the best. The locals you meet will appreciate your effort in trying to use the language. Since English is widely spoken, you won’t have too much to worry about, especially in the larger cities. Depending on the length of your stay in the region, your fluency will improve quickly because you’ll hear and use these greetings so often. You’ll also find that everyone in Tanzania is a Mwalimu (teacher) and will be happy to help you learn Swahili.
Swahili is a Bantu language that connects a wide region of East Africa. It is the national language of Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya and is also a lingua franca of several other countries throughout Eastern and Southern Africa.
You’ll meet a lot of nice people as you explore Tanzania. Many a great friendship starts with a simple “Hello”, and Tanzanians have plenty of ways to say it.
Jambo is popular among foreigners because it’s usually the one word we learn before heading to East Africa. During my entire time in Dar es Salaam, only one person greeted me with Jambo to which I replied “Jambo“.
If you are alone and greeted with Hujambo, your expected response is Sijambo. When someone greets you with Hujambo, they’re asking you if you are having any matters or issues. Responding with Sijambo means you are not having any issues. If you are responding on behalf of a group, reply with Hatujambo (We have no issues). If you want to reciprocate the greeting, use Hujambo. To greet multiple people, use Hamjambo?
Shikamo (Respectful way of saying “Hello”)
Greet an elder or person of importance with Shikamo. If there are multiples of such persons, use the plural form Shikamoni. Shikamo means “I respect you.” The proper response is Marahaba which is a blessing upon you.
I heard and used this one all day, every day. Mambo is an informal way of saying Hello. When greeted with Mambo, respond with Poa (Cool) or Safi (Clean/Fine).
Mzima? (Are you complete?)
Respond back with Mzima.
Salama? (Are you safe/at peace?)
The appropriate response is Salama.
Mambo vipi? / Vipi?
Use this when you want to ask, “What’s up?” To respond, you can use Poa or Safi.
Habari? (What’s the news?)
Habari yako? (How are you?)
Habari gani? (How are you?)
Habari za safari? (How was your trip?)
Habari za asubuhi? (Good morning.)
Habari za mchana? (Good afternoon.)
Habari za jioni? (Good evening.)
Habari leo? (How are you, today?)
Habari za kazi? (How is work?)
Habari za asubuhi?
Simply reply to any of the Habari greetings with Nzuri/Mzuri (Good/Fine) or Nzuri sana/Mzuri sana (Very good). Other replies include Njema (Great), Safi (Clean/Fine), Salaama (Safe/Fine). If you are not doing well, you can respond with Mbaya (Bad/Not good).
Saying “Thank you” and “You’re Welcome In Swahili
Asante (Thank you)
Tanzanians are quite welcoming. You will be welcomed to Tanzania, to a meal, to someone’s home, and into businesses. Show gratitude with Asante (Thank you) or Asante Sana (Thank you very much). If responding to more than one person, Asanteni (Thank you all) is appropriate.
Karibu/Karibu Sana (Welcome. / You’re very welcome.)
As previously stated, you will receive many welcomes. If you accept, you’ll respond with Asante or Asante sana. If you do not accept, use the respectful negative response La, asante (No. Thank you.). If you are doing the welcoming, Karibu is used for one person and Karibuni for multiple people.
Introduce Yourself In Swahili
Jina lako ni nani? (What is your name?)
Introduce yourself with Jina langu ni (your name here). Jina means “name”, langu means “my“, and ni means “is”.
Nafurahi kukuona. (Nice to meet you.)
For the goodbyes, you can simply reply back with the same words.
Use Kwaheri when talking to one person and Kwahereni when talking to multiple people.
Lala Salama. (Good night.)
Tutaonana baadaye! (See you later!)
Tutaonana! (See you!)
To add a more personal touch, terms of endearment such as Dada (sister), Kaka (brother) are often used. I added those so you’re not caught off guard when someone refers to you using them.
If you found this list helpful in your quest to learn Swahili, drop a comment!