Greetings are an essential part of every culture and daily conversation. 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. Even if you can only say Hello in Swahili, the locals you meet will appreciate your effort in trying to use the language.
Since English is widely spoken, you won’t have too hard of a time finding an English speaker, especially in the larger cities. Depending on the length of your stay in the region, your fluency will improve quickly because you’ll often hear and use these greetings. You’ll also find that everyone you meet is a Mwalimu (teacher) and will be happy to help you learn Swahili.
Swahili (Kiswahili) is a Bantu language that connects a vast region of East Africa. It is the national language of Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya and is also a common language of several other countries throughout Eastern and Southern Africa.
You’ll meet a lot of nice people as you explore Tanzania and other East African countries. Many great friendships start with a simple “Hello”, and Tanzanians have plenty of ways to say it. Practice these emphatically because you will encounter most of them regularly. If you can properly respond to Hello in Swahili, you’ll save yourself some minor embarrassment.
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” signifies 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?”
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).
Respond back with Mzima.
The appropriate response is Salama.
Use this when you want to ask, “What’s up?” To respond, you can use Poa or Safi.
It’s safe to respond with “Nzuri” when approached with a Habari greeting. Here are some common Habari greetings you will encounter:
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.
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 giving the welcome, Karibu is used for one person and Karibuni for multiple people.
Introduce yourself with Jina langu ni (your name here). Jina means “name”, langu means “my“, and ni means “is”.
For your goodbyes, you can simply reply back with the same words.
Use Kwaheri when talking to one person and Kwahereni when talking to multiple people.
To add a more personal touch, terms of endearment such as Dada (sister) and Kaka (brother) are often used.
Now you know how to introduce yourself, show gratitude, and say Hello in Swahili! Get out there and use what you’ve learned!
If you found this list helpful in your quest to learn Swahili, consider buying me a cup of coffee 🙂
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