Considered one of the world's easiest languages to pick up, Swahili developed to make communication between Arab and coastal African traders simpler. There are regional variations and dialects, with the standard format evolving from Zanzibar Swahili -- this was the form of the language Christian missionaries first transcribed using the Roman alphabet. The trick with Swahili is to sound out all the syllables that you see in the written form (which may vary from place to place, so take spelling variants with a pinch of salt) -- there are no silent letters or syllables. Bear in mind, too, that Swahili is not necessarily the first language for many of the people you will meet in East Africa. Many people, particularly outside Tanzania and away from the coast, speak only an informal or passable version of the language (in addition to their home tongue), and this may lack correct grammar, have a simplified vocabulary, and, ultimately, be no better than your own practiced attempts at blending in.

Dealing with Drivers

You'll inevitably be driven around for much of your time in Kenya and Tanzania, and there will be times when the style, pace, or attitude of your driver will make you nervous or uneasy. Here are a few essential terms that will help you get your point across -- firmly and in absolute terms -- when you need to modify your travel experience:

Simana! (Stop!)

Pole pole (Slowly)

Unaenda wapi? (Where are you going?)

Twende (Let's go)

Ngoja kidogo! (Hang on a moment!)


baridi- cold

bia/tembo- beer

chai- tea

chumvi- salt

kahawa- coffee

kali- hot (spicy)

mayai- eggs

maziwa- milk

mkate- bread

molo- hot (temperature)

na . . . /bila . . .- with . . . /without . . .

siagi- butter

sukari- sugar

unga- flour

wali- rice


kondo- lamb

kuku- chicken

mbuzi- goat

ng'ombei- beef

nguruwe- pork

nyama- meat

samaki- fish

steki- steak

Fruits & Vegetables

machungwa- oranges

maembe- mangoes

mahindi- corn

matunda- fruit

mboga- vegetables

nanasi- pineapple

nazi- coconuts

ndizi- bananas

ndimu- lemon

nyanya- tomatoes

papai- papaya

parachichi- avocado

pera- guava

viazi- potatoes

vitunguu- onions


chui- leopard

faru- rhinoceros

ndovu- elephant

nyati- buffalo

samba- lion

"Hatari!" -- While you may want to memorize the Big Five (named because they were traditionally, in the early days of safari-era hunting, the animals responsible for the largest number of human deaths in the bush), the words you'll be screaming from your tent to attract the attention of assistance will more likely be mdudu if there is an insect or bug, and -- more specifically -- mbu, when you're threatened by a mosquito, which is absolutely the biggest killer in Africa. The other creature you really don't want to find curled up in your tent -- or, indeed, slithering across your path -- is an nyoka, or snake. And if you come between a kiboko (hippopotamus) and the water, there's not very much use remembering how to pronounce its name. Incidentally, take heed of signs bearing the slogan Hakuna njia, as it means "No entry," while the Swahili word for danger is hatari and is likely to be accompanied on signboards by a fierce-looking skull and crossbones.

bweha- jackal

bweha masigio- bat-eared fox

duma- cheetah

fisi- hyena

fungo- civet

kanu- genet

mamba- crocodile

mbwa mwitu- wild dog/hunting dog

mondo- serval

paka pori- wild cat

papa- shark

simbamangu- caracal

choroa- oryx

kuru- waterbuck

mbuzi mawe- klipspringer

ngiri- warthog

nsya- duiker

nyamera- topi

paa- suni

pala hala- sable antelope

pofu- eland

punda milia- zebra

swala granti- Grant's gazelle

swala pala- impala

swala tomi- Thomson's gazelle

swala twiga- gerenuk

tandala- kudu

taya- oribi

tohe- reedbuck

twiga- giraffe

kakukuona- pangolin

kalasinga- De Brazza's monkey

kalunguyeye- hedgehog

kamandegere- springhare

kima- monkey

kindi- ground squirrel

kobe- tortoise

komba- bushbaby

kuku- chicken

mbega- Colobus monkey

mbuni- ostrich

mbuzi- goat

mbwa- dog

mjusi- lizard

muhanga- aardvark

ndege- bird

ng'ombe- cow

nguchiro- mongoose

nguruwe- pig

nungu- porcupine

nyani- baboon

nyegere- ratel

paka- cat

pembere- tree hyrax

pimbi- rock hyrax

punda- horse/donkey

sange- elephant shrew

soko- chimpanzee

sokwe- ape/chimpanzee

sunguru- rabbit/hare

tumbili- vervet monkey

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.