Kenya has over 40 ethnic tribes and while most people speak their ‘mother tongue’, Kiswahili is the national language of Kenya while English is the official language.

Kiswahili is a Bantu language with about 35% of the vocabulary derived from the Arabic language.  It also incorporates some Persian, German, Portuguese, English and French words into the vocabulary due to contact with peoples of these nationalities during the last five centuries.

Kiswahili Words

Although English is the official language, it is not widely spoken in the rural communities. Knowing a few words of the national language, Kiswahili, will impress Kenyans and may prove useful in bargaining at the shops, markets and road-side stalls!

To get you started here are some words English words with their Kiswahili translations…

Hello = Jambo
How are you? = Habari  yako?
Very well = Mzuri sana
And you? = Na wewe?
Okay = Sawa
Good = Mzuri
Bad = Mbaya
Yes = Ndiyo
No = Hapana
There is not = Hakuna
I don’t know = Si jui
I don’t understand = Sielewi
Don’t have = Sina
I = Mimi
You = Wewe
Excuse me = Samahani
Please = Tafadhali
Thank you very much =Asante sana
Where are you from? = Unatoka wapi?
I’m from… =Natoka …
Food = Chakula
Shop = Duka
Money = Pesa
I don’t want = Sitaki
No problem = Hakuna matata
Danger = Hatari
Let’s go = Twende
Absolutely/definitely = Kabisa
Goodbye = Kwaheri

Want to learn more? Check out this website: http://www.kamusiproject.org

Kiswahili Proverbs

Proverbs are one of the most precious cultural heritages of people. They play an important part in African cultures all across the continent. Uniquely African, African proverbs help us gain an insight into African culture through conveying wisdom, truth, a discovery of ideas, as well as lessons for life –all in one poetic sentence.

Here is a selection of Kenyan proverbs, with their Kiswahili translation and English meaning.  Kenyan people will be impressed with your knowledge of this part of their cultural heritage!

  • Hurry, hurry, has no blessings  (Haraka haraka haina Baraka)
    (ie:More haste less accomplished)
  • Work with the clay while it is wet (Udongo uwahi umaji)
    (ie: Strike the iron while its hot)
  • Long road is not without a corner  (Barabara refu haikosi kona)
    (ie:. nothing is perfect)
  • Where there are many fowls do not spill millet  (Penye kuku wengi usimwage mtama)
    (ie: do not utter a secret in front of many people)
  • A person is people  (Mtu ni watu)
    (ie: No man is an island. Every person needs the company/help of others)
  • Nine is near ten  (Tisa karibu na kumi)
    (ie: Never give up when you are about to complete a task or nearing the end)
  • Little by little fills up the measure  (Haba na haba hujaza kibaba)
    (ie: Great investments are borne out of small savings. A great journey is begun by a single step)
  • The child of a snake is a snake.  (mtoto wa nyoka ni nyoka)
    (ie: Like father like son. The apple does not fall away from its tree. Good behavior is learnt and a child learns what he lives)