Swahili and Nyanja basic expressions

Normally, when volunteers arrive to the field, they are interested to learn common expressions in Swahili, Kenyas’ official language as well as English, and Nyanja, one of the languages spoken in Zambia although the official one is English. Apart from these, there are many other dialects in both countries depending on the area and/or the tribe, but these are the most common ones.

Today we want to introduce ourselves a little bit more in the origin of the languages of the countries we work in to be able to get closer to their culture. In addition, we know that the effort to try to use local expressions is always valued as it denotes a greater interest. So, we encourage you to learn the odd expression.

The origins of Swahili

It is an African language that is also spoken in many other countries of the continent, such as Tanzania and in some areas of Uganda, Mozambique, Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Somalia and Zambia. It belongs to the group of the Bantu languages and despite its status as an African language, it has received a strong influence in its vocabulary from the Arabic and, in the last two centuries, English and Portuguese. It is a language with a very regular grammar and an absolute equivalence between spelling and pronunciation. The pronunciation of vowels and almost all consonants is very similar to that of Spanish.

Swahili means “coastal” and its origin is located in the coast of Zanzibar between Bantu, Arab and Persian communities, which gave rise to the Swahili civilization between the 8th and 12th centuries of the Christian era.

Here are some expressions that we believe may be useful upon your arrival in Kenya:

Jambo: Hello
Mambo: How are you?
Poa: Good
Mzuri Sana: Very good
Umeshindaje?: ¿How’s your day/life going?
Habari asubuhi: Good morning
Usiku Mwema: Good night/evening
Asante sana: Thank you very much
Karibu: Welcome/You’re welcome
Tutaonana: See you
Kwaheri: Goodbye
Pole: I’m sorry
Pole pole: Slow/slowly
Tafadhali: Please
Samahani: Excuse me
Una itwa Nani? / Jina lako nani?: What’s your name?
Una miaka mingapi?: How old are you?
Pesa Ngapi?: How much is it?
Twende: Come on/Let’s go
Hakuna Shida: No problem
Unataka nini?: What do you want?
Unafanya nini?: What are you doing?
Nakupenda: I love you
Napenda chapati: I like chapati (a type of bread)
Rafiki: Friend
Tuko pamoja: We are together

The origins of Nyanja

Nyanja (chinyanja) is a Bantu language spoken by more than 15 million people in southern Africa. Nyanja is a common lingua franca in Malawi and Zambia, and is also spoken by some in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

The name Nyanja actually means “lake”, so chinyanja is the “language of the lake”, referring to the language of the Chewas and other tribes that have adopted their language. In Malawi, the official name is Chichewa, while in Zambia and Mozambique call it Nyanja.

In Zambia there are two languages, Chewa, which is spoken in the eastern part (known as “Eastern Province”) and Nyanja, which is spoken in the capital city (Lusaka), the two languages have some similarities but they are different. Nyanja has some unique words, some derived from other languages in Zambia, which include, among others, Chewa, Bemba, Tonga and English.

The basic pronunciation of Nyanja is relatively simple, although to be exactly correct it will require further study. Stress is usually placed on the penultimate syllable. The writing system is logical if it is applied a bit inconsistently in a small part due to dialect variations.

Expressions of interest:

Mwaka bwanji: Good morning
Tisaonana: See you later
Ngone Bwino: Good night (sleep well)
Nambela njala: I’m hungry
Duen dani? What’s your name?
Uadiela: How are you?
Pangono Pangono: little by little
Uncala cuti?: Where do you live?
Uenda cuti?: Where are you going?
Uli cuti?: Where are you?
Uchita chani?: What are you doing?
Uacondwela: Are you happy?
Nakondwuela: I am happy
Nikukonda: I love you
Nacuyewa: I miss you
Mulunwu wuanga: Oh my God
Sikomo: Thank you
Maningi: A lot
Sibitichica: Impossible
Bitichica: Possible
Odi?: Can I come in?
Chibaba: Pain
Manje manje: Now
Life niyolimba, but nisamenaya nayo: Life is hard, but we keep fighting.

We hope that with these basic notions you get to know the language and defend yourselves. You will look great!

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