Language in Kenya

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The base of the mountain lies at some 5,250 feet (1,600 metres). At the 8,000-foot (2,440-metre) contour, the circumference is approximately 95 miles (153 km). Sheng is another language you may hear in Kenya. Sheng (the word coming from a combination of the words SwaHili and ENGlish) is a language that has grown out of Nairobi that is used almost exclusively by the younger crowd. It is a mix of Kiswahili, English, and the Bantu tribal tongues. Sheng is regarded almost as a secret language of the youth, and when spoken by a tourist, it is sure to impress any young adult in any big city. It is hard to differentiate from Kiswahili without knowing the language, but it can still be fun to substitute a Sheng greeting for a Kiswahili greeting if you run into a young adult. Common Sheng greetings are: “Sasa?” which is answered by “fit” or “fiti,” and “Mambo?” (or “Mambo vipi?” or just “Vipi?”), which is answered by “poa.”

What follows is a list of Kiswahili vocabulary that will allow you to have a working knowledge of the language. This could be useful to get you out of a fix, order food, or just impress a local.

Pronunciation: One of the reasons Kiswahili is not a difficult language is that it is very grammatical and pronunciation never changes from word to word.

A as the ‘a’ in ‘father’ 

E as the ‘e’ in ‘best’ or the ‘a’ in ‘hay’

I as the ‘ee’ in ‘bee’

O as the ‘o’ in ‘cold’

U as the ‘ou” in “you”

Dh as the ‘th’ in ‘this’

Ng’ as the ‘ng’ in ‘sing’

All other consonants require no explanation.

Greetings and Civilties:

Greeting is extremely important in Kenyan culture. Before talking to anyone, it is polite to greet them first. After a greeting, some Kenyans may even carry on with small talk for ten good minutes before getting to the topic at hand.

Welcome                                             Karibu

How are you (greeting a singular person)? Habari yako? or Habari gani?

How are you (greeting many people)?    Habari zenu? or Habari gani?

I’m fine                                                  Nzuri, Salama, or Njema

What is your name?                              Unaitwa nani?

My name is ____                                   Ninaitwa ______

Where are you from?                             Unatoka wapi?

I’m from _____                                      Ninatoka shiut______

Where do you live?                                Unakaa wapi?

I live in _____                                       Ninakaa ______ 

Thank you very much                             Asante sana

Yes                                                          ndio

No                                                        hapana

Goodbye                                            fkwaheri

hello                                                 jambo, salama, sasa

No problem                                                  Hakuna Matata, ni sawa, usijali

White person (foreigner)                                 Mzungu

White people (foreigners)                              Wazungu

Finding your way around:

I want to go to _____                                        Nataka kwenda mpaka/nataka kwenda  ______

Is this the way to ______?                                Hii ni njia ya wapi _____?

Is this the car to _____?                                  Hii ina enda wapi_____?

How much is it to go to _____?                        Ni pesa ngapi kwenda _____?

bus                                                                  basi

train                                                                 gari la moshi

vehicle                                                             gari

boat                                                                 meli

taxi                                                                  taxi

ticket                                                                 tikiti

Wait a little!                                                  Ngoja kidogo!

Stop here!                                                   Simama hapa!

Where is _____?                                         Wapi _____?

hotel                                                            hoteli ya kulala

bank                                                            bank

restaurant                                                    hoteli ya chakula

post office                                                    posta

toilet                                                              choo

hospital                                                       hospitali

police station                                              stesheni ya polisi


Where is a hotel?                                            Wapi hoteli ya kulala?

Do you have a room for one person?            Kuna chumba kwa mtu moja?

Do you have a room for two people?            Kuna chumba kwa watu wawili?

Is there hot water?                                       Kuna maji ya moto?

How much is the room?                                 Chumba ni pesa ngapi?

I want to see the room please.                   Nataka kuona chumba tafadhali.

For one day                                                siku moja

For one week                                           wiki mzima /moja

key                                                           ufunguo/ kifunguo


bird -                                                      ndege

crocodile -                                              mamba

elephant -                                                ndovu/tembo

giraffe -                                                  twiga

hippopotamus -                                     kiboko

hyena -                                                    fisi

insects/bugs -                                           wadudu

lion -                                                       simba

monkey -                                                 tumbili

mosquito -                                                 mbu

rhinoceros -                                               kifaru

snake -                                                      nyoka

water buffalo -                                             nyati


1 moja

2 mbili

3 tatu

4 nne

5 tano

6 sita

7 saba

8 nane

9 tisa

10 kumi

11 kumi na moja

12 kumi na mbili

20 ishirini

30 thelathini

40 arobaini

50 hamsini

60 sitini

70 sabini

80 themanini

90 tisini

100 mia moja

200 mia mbili

1000 elfu moja

4567 elfu nne mia tano sitini na saba


I’m sick                             mimi mgonjwa/ mi nimgonjwa

I need a doctor                   ninahitaji daktari/ nataka daktari

I’m pregnant                      nina mimba

hospital                             hospitali

pharmacy                          duka la dawa

medicine                         dawa


Help!                                         Saidia!

I’m lost                                     nimepotea

I’ve been robbed                          nimeibwa

Don’t bother me.                          usinisumbue

Go away                                      kwenda kabisa/ toka hapa

I have no money                        sina pesa

At the restaurant:

Vegetables and Grains:

beans (pinto, kidney)                    maharagwe

cabbage                                               kabichi

carrots                                        karoti

cassava                                           muhogo

kale                                          sukuma wiki

lettuce                                           salad

onions                                              vitunguu

potatoes                                          viazi

rice                                                  mchele

tomatoes                                              nyanya

vegetables (greens)                                mboga


beef -                                                  nyama ya ng’ombe

goat -                                            nyama ya mbuzi

kebabs - mushkaki

meat - nyama

mutton - nyama ya kondoo

pork - nyama ya ng’uruwe

crab - kaa

fish - samaki

lobster - kamba

chicken - kuku


bananas - ndizi

coconut - nazi

dates - tende

fruit - matunda

guava - pera

limes - ndimu

mangoes - maembe

oranges - machungwa

papayas - paipai

passion fruit - pashoni/ passion fruit

pineapples - mananasi

sugar cane - miwa

Other useful words and phrases:

boiled - chemsha

bread - mkate

butter - siagi/ blue band

cold - baridi

cup - kikombe

Do you have____? - Kuna/ uko na _____?

eggs - mayai

food - chakula

fork - uma

fried - kaanga

glass - glasi/ glass

hot - moto

hot(spicy) - kali

knife - kisu

napkin - kitambaa

pepper - pilipili

plate - sahani

raw - mbichi

ripe - mbivu

roast - choma

table - meza

salt - chumvi

spoon - kijiko

soup - supu

sweet - tamu

without meat - bila nyama

December 07, 2004 change by giorgio
June 26, 2007 change by rfujitani

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There are about 42 languages spoken but only 2 official ones. The official languages are Kiswahili and English. The 42 include Likuyu, Luo, and Massai.

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