LESSON #104: Je, wajua? (#13)

First of all, we are back and this time for good-yay!

Onto the lesson, as you may or may not know Swahili is mainly made up of Arabic vocabulary and also in small part vocabulary borrowed from other languages mainly English (the name of the language itself is Arabic, Sahil, meaning coast). But generally Swahili tends to borrow from numerous languages and that I have managed to prove over the years as I’ve been teaching students who speak different languages.

I knew a couple of words that were from other languages but the other day I was teaching a class about N class nouns (which as you may or may not know are mostly borrowed nouns i.e. from other languages). Funny thing is when I started listing common nouns my students kept telling me the meaning even before I asked and it turns out not only do we borrow lots of words from Arabic & English but Indian languages as well (mostly Gujarati).

Now here’s the thing, most English words can be ‘Swahilinized’ by adding an I at the end (as a suffix), this is usually done for words ending in a consonant, however if they end in a vowel then the ‘Swahilinization’ is slightly different. So if you are ever in a fix it’s ok (but not encouraged) to ‘Swahilinize’ whatever English word you need to use (all my students get really excited when I tell them this-lazy mode activated ha ha!)

So this is more of an FYI post, am gonna list a number of words that we have managed to borrow from other languages and if you happen to know of others please add them on the comment section. This list is by no means exhaustive and will probably get updated from time to time. Excuse the apparent ignorance but am just gonna classify all Indian origin languages under ‘Indian’ which I know is not a language but hopefully you get what I mean.


Bendera – flag 





Shule – school

Helacoin/s (although generally it just means money)


Motokaa motorcar

Koti coat











Bunduki gun, rifle

Memsabu – madam 

Dawa medicine 

Chupabottle/glass used to make bottles






Sandukutrunk, suitcase, box 




Sita, Saba, Tisasix, seven ,nine

By the way I like to give due credit so instead of sounding oh so knowledgeable (ha ha!) here’s a big list of more Swahili words of Arabic origin


LESSON #101: Je, wajua? (#12)…The Lion King

(credit to animationsource.org & jenmasafaris.com)

Note: I haven’t watched the movie as much as many people have but I do remember a lot of memorable Swahili phrases and names which are on here. Of course I stand thoroughly corrected on some of the names, I pretty much borrowed the list from the cited sources above but I trust they are right on point. Any other movies with Swahili references that you can recommend? Let us know via the comment section below.

Motomoto– hot, fantastic

Simba– lion

Hakuna matata– no worries

Rafiki– friend

Pumbaa– slow witted, dumb

Nala- means gift

Sarabi– mirage

Kopa- (Simab’s son in a book series) means heart

Shenzi- means savage

Banzai- skulk or lurk

Kovu- scar

Zira- hate

Nuka- means stink

Vitani was originally going to be called Shetani which means devil. (although vita also means war and when you add ni it changes to at war)

LESSON #97: Je, wajua? (#11)

On je, wajua? (do you know?) today we are talking about animals, birds, fish and insects in Swahili and the one thing they have in common. These creatures’ names just happen not to have plural versions eg. in English we have the animal name sheep which remains the same in the plural. In Swahili, most of the aforementioned creatures’ names do not change in the plural, they remain the same, just like ‘sheep.’ Pretty cool huh?!

However note that the operative word here is most, which means we do have a few exceptions. Feel free to add any other names that are the exception to this but the two I know of are animals:

Kiboko (hippo) whose plural is viboko

Kifaru (rhino) whose plural is vifaru.

The rest pretty much fall within the rule and therefore remain the same in either singular or plural form.

Here’s a few examples:

Mende (cockroach/es), mbu (mosquito/es), panya (mouse/mice), ng’ombe (cow/s), papa (shark/s), sato (tilapia fish), kuku (chicken/s), bata (duck/s)

Note: In Swahili we have something called noun classes-basically nouns are categorized into different groups depending on certain characteristics they may have. The above nouns all belong to a class called N-class whose main characteristic is that its nouns remain the same in singular and plural form. More on noun classes someday soon-when I have the energy for it-it’s a really heavy topic! Or if you ask me really nicely…. 😉

LESSON #77: Je wajua? (#9)

Je wajua there’s words whose spelling  difference is only one letter but the meanings are like day and night? Of course you do as am sure all languages have such words. It’s the same in Swahili so let’s look at the words kula & kura for today.

What do they mean?…  → -1677″ class=”Read More -link”>Read More

LESSON #63: Je, wajua? (#8)


You must be familiar with the popular family game, ‘jenga’ as in the tumbling blocks. Funny enough I had my first taste of the game today as that’s how I spent my afternoon, playing solo as usual- story of my life!

But the point of today’s ‘je wajua’ is, did u know ‘jenga’ is a Swahili word? It basically means Read More

LESSON #57: Je, wajua? (#7)

Just like with languages we use the prefix ‘KI-‘ we also follow a similar pattern when it comes to the different nationalities. This time we use the prefix ‘M-‘ or ‘MU-‘ depending on the root of the language name when you remove the ‘KI-‘ (basically if the root begins with a vowel you use MU-), and its pretty much the same thing as with languages. So for example; Kiswahili————> Mswahili. Of course ‘Mswahili‘ is not a nationality per se so lets use similar examples as with the already covered languages and come up with their matching nationalities:

Read More

LESSON #55: Je, wajua? (#6)

Did you know that all languages begin with the prefix KI- in Swahili? And by virtue of them beginning with this particular prefix, they automatically fall into the KI-VI noun class (only serious Swahili learners will know what I mean by this!)

So a couple of examples for you:

Kiingereza– English

Kijapani– Japanese

Kichina– Chinese

Kihispania– Spanish

Read More