Tanzania Local Language

-Everything you need to know about local language in Tanzania-

Swahili language (correctly known as Kiswahili) is the official language and is taught in schools throughout Tanzania, but there are many other major tribal languages which include Chagga, Meru, Maasai, Sukuma, Hehe, Zaramo any many other minor tribal languages. Most urban Tanzania and even tribal people involved in the tourist industry speak English so you shouldn’t experience too many problems making yourself understood. French, Spanish and German are also spoken by many Tanzanian but usually only among those associated with the tourist trade on the coast.

It’s extremely useful, however, to have a working knowledge of Swahili, especially outside of urban areas and in remote parts of the country since this will open doors and enable you to communicate with people who don’t speak English. It’s also the most common language which speakers of different tribal languages use to communicate with each other. Even tribespeople who haven’t been to school will usually be able to speak some Swahili.

If you’re planning on visiting many parts of Tanzania then you’ll find it extremely useful as it’s the official language (though English is still used extensively). Unless you can speak reasonable Swahili, you probably won’t realise it’s being spoken since it does sound quite similar to Swahili.

One of the keys to knowing that it’s being spoken is in the initial greeting between friends. The greeting will be, ‘Mambo!’ The response to this can be, ‘Poa’ (pronounced almost like ‘poor’). There is then an option to continue in Swahili or any other mutually intelligible language.

Swahili Pronunciation

Swahili vowels are pronounced as follows:

a​  –  as the ‘a’ in ‘father’ e  –  as the ‘e’ in ‘better’ i   –  ​as the ‘ee’ sound in ‘bee’ o  – ​as the ‘a’ in ‘law’ u  – ​as the ’00’ in ‘too’ Double vowels, or any two vowels together, are pronounced as two separate syllables. Thus saa (time/hour) is pronounced ‘sa-a’, and yai (egg) is pronounced ‘ya-i’. There are no diphthongs as in English. * There is also a respectful greeting used for elders: shikamoo. The reply is marahaba.

General Rules

Swahili relies heavily on prefixes; adjectives change prefix according to the number and class of the noun. Thus mzuri, wazuri, vizuri and kizuri are different forms of the word good

Some Useful Words & Phrases:

  • Hello –  Mambo
  • Welcome – Karibu
  • How are you? – Habari Yako
  • I’m fine thanks – Nzuri, Ahsante
  • Goodbye – Kwaheri
  • Yes – Ndio
  • No – Hapana
  • Thank You – Ahsante
  • Where  – Wapi?
  • Money  –  pesa
  • Today  –  leo
  • Tomorrow  – kesho
  • Gues thouse  – ​nyumba ya wageni
  • Toilet  –  choo
  • Eat  –  kula
  • Sleep  – lala
  • Want  – taka
  • Come from  – Kutokea
  • There is  –  kuna
  • There isn’t  – hakuna
  • White people  – wazungu
  • What’s your name? –  Unaitwa nani ?
  • My Name is  –  Ninaitwa
  • How was the journey? – Habari ya safari?
  • How much/how many?  – Shilingi Ngapi? Ngapi?

Swahili (Kiswahili) is the official language but English remains widely spoken and is the principal language of commerce. There are also many local African languages, reflecting the tribal diversity of the country, Outside the cities and towns, far fewer local people speak English.

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