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 #102 : Common Diseases in Swahili (Magonjwa)

Not a fancy, cheerful topic but somebody’s gotta do it so here goes:


Malaria- Malaria

Cancer- Saratani (breast: saratani ya matiti, prostate: saratani ya tezi dume, cervical: saratani ya mlango wa kizazi)

Fever- Homa

Yellow Fever- Homa ya manjano

Typhoid- Homa ya matumbo

Insanity- Kichaa/Wazimu

Epilepsy- Kifafa

Diabetes- Kisukari (sukari-sugar)

TB- Kifua kikuu

Cough- Kikohozi

Cholera- Kipindupindu

Diarrhoea- Kuhara/Kuendesha

Cold- Mafua

Vomiting- Kutapika


Tetanus- Pepopunda

Paralysis- Ugonjwa wa kupooza

Appendicitis- Kidoletumbo

Stomach Ulcers- Vidonda vya tumbo

Asthma- Pumu

Hypertension- Shinikizo la damu

Useful vocabulary:

Disease/Illness- Ugonjwa/Maradhi

Doctor- Daktari/Mganga

Patient- Mgonjwa

Hospital- Hospitali

Nurse- Nesi/Mwuguzi

Treat- Tibu

Syringe- Sindano

Pills- Dawa/Vidonge/Tembe

To be treated- Kutibiwa

To be admitted- Kulazwa

To get better- Kupata nafuu

To get cured- Kupona

To be ill- Kuumwa (kuumwa na tumbo, kuumwa na kichwa, kuumwa na miguu)

To take medication- Kumeza dawa




Lesson Update: Lesson #75


Just an update on lesson #75 about understanding directions in Swahili. A certain Vola commented and asked for an accompanying podcast-I haven’t done one of those in a while! So yeahs it took a bit of time but I eventually got to it. You can listen to it here.

Similarly, if you need an audio accompaniment for any other lesson simply ask and thou shalt receive. Amen to that!

LESSON #100: Swahili names translated (majina kwa Kiingereza)

So back in lesson#73 we did English names translated so I figured, let’s do the opposite this time.  Unfortunately all my names are English ones (actually I understand Elise is French so lets just say both my names are foreign), but I can’t wait to name my future baby with at least one Swahili name-you’d better co-operate future hubby (shakes fist 😉

Here we go, if I left out anything just let me know via the comment section below. And of course when I remember a name I’ll just update the list (already updated a couple of names). Also am no expert on the genders so I stand corrected there.

Imani (m/f)– Faith

Amani (m)– Peace

Rehema (f)– Mercy

Neema (f)– Grace

Pendo/Upendo (f)– Love

Jumanne (m)– Tuesday…ok don’t laugh!! (fun fact, since Tue is shortened as J4 in Swahili, some ‘Jumannes’ are now nicknamed Jay Four!)

Furaha (m/f)– Hapiness

Tumaini (m/f)– Hope

Tunu (f)– Treasure, Precious, Rare…how about that!!

Lulu (f)– Pearl

Pili (f)– Second…no your eyes are not deceiving you!!

Tatu (f)– Third…yup!!

Chausiku (f)– of the night (or something along those lines so given to those born at night)

Bahati (m/f)– Luck

Waridi (f)– Rose

Wema (f)– Goodness, Virtue

Ramadhani (m)– Ramadan

Iddi (m)– Eid

Amina (f), Amin (m)– Amen…dead serious!

Uwezo (f)– Capability, Ability

Juma (m)– Week (a certain source also tells me it means ‘born on Friday’)

Kulwa & Doto (m/f)– these names are usually given to twins, Kulwa being the older one, no idea what triplets and the rest are called though! Usually they’d also have other names, these are just for ease of identification I suppose.

ps: It’s our 100th lesson, how about that?!! Applause! Applause!



LESSON #98: STOVE 1 (Subject prefixes)

If you’re a regular lurker on here you know I post lessons in mixed fashion i.e. I mix all levels and don’t follow a certain pattern. My favourite topic is hands down this simple one that teaches you how to create a simple Swahili sentence using the above formula, STOVE (borrowed from Simplified Swahili). So what does it stand for?

S– Subject prefix T– Tense O– Object infix V– Verb E– Ending vowel

To easily understand this topic, my approach is that we break the formula into the different little sections, discuss them, and once we’ve covered all 5, we bring them together to form a simple, complete sentence. Note that in Swahili 1 sentence could be equal to 5 or more words in English.

eg, Ninakufundisha (1) = I am teaching you (4), pretty cool huh?!

With that in mind let’s start off with S (subject prefix). In English we have a 1st person, 2nd person, 3rd person and it. These are represented by personal pronouns and subject prefixes. As in:

                                    Personal pronoun                       Subject Prefix

1st person                            Me (Us)                                     I (We)

2nd person                          You (You)                                You (You)

3rd person                           Him/Her (Them)                   He/She (They)

First of all note that, unlike in English, Swahili has many variations of it (about 7-8 of them). This is due to the use of noun classes- which I might cover at some point. Also note that when dealing with STOVE, it is all about humans (and other living beings i.e. animals, birds, insects and fish). So we are learning how to form sentences involving living beings ONLY as the main subjects or objects of a particular sentence. eg. We are not learning how to say the chair broke, because a chair is an inanimate object, rather we are learning how to say the girl broke a nail, or they carried many loads etc etc. Speaking of subjects (and objects) just what are they? A subject in a sentence is the one doing the act while the object is the one for which or to which an act is done. eg. If a sentence says the girl carried the dog, the girl here is doing the main act of carrying a dog hence she is the subject while the dog is the object because the main act in the sentence (carrying) is being done to them.

With that in mind, let’s see what personal pronouns and subject prefixes we have in Swahili (which perfectly match with the English ones). Note that whatever’s in brackets is the plural, also in Swahili he/she & him/her are each represented by only one personal pronoun/subject prefix unlike in English:

                                       Personal pronoun                       Subject Prefix

1st person                            Mimi (Sisi)                                     Ni (Tu)

2nd person                          Wewe (Nyinyi/Ninyi)                   U (M)

3rd person                           Yeye (Wao)                                    A (Wa)

So knowing all about subject prefixes let’s go back to the very first example sentence, ninakufundisha. Using STOVE, we now know what ni, stands for, it stands for I. So even if we didn’t know what ninakufundisha means, at least we’d know the sentence is saying I am doing, did, will do….. something. So the next thing to learn is T which stands for Tense, which will be the next topic I cover. Before signing off it is also important to note the fact that in Swahili sentences tend to sound repetitive, eg. The girl carried a dog= msichana (the girl) alibeba (she carried)  mbwa (a dog). Note the repetition, the girl she carried a dog, in English the subject prefix is deemed unnecessary and repetitive but in Swahili it is not, it is absolutely imperative that it be included. Cant explain any further, it’s just one of those things so just know that.

I have written this lesson the way I would usually present it, some students get it right off the bat whilst others take a bit longer. No sweat, that’s why the comment section is for, ask and it shall be answered for thee.

Till next time…

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 #93: World Cup must know vocabulary…

The world cup fever is well and truly on. So to help you enjoy the whole experience with locals as opposed to sitting at home cheering all by yourself (like me currently watching Holland vs Mexico), I’ve compiled a couple of words and phrases that you’d find useful.

  • Mpira – ball
  • Goli (magoli)  – goal/s
  • Mechi – match
  • Kipa – goal keeper
  • Mchezaji (wachezaji) – player/s
  • Mshambuliaji  – striker
  • Refa – referee
  • Shabiki (mashabiki) – fan/s
  • Shangilia – celebrate
  • Mpira unaanza saa ngapi?/ Mechi inaanza saa ngapi? – when does the match start?
  • Bado dakika ngapi? – how many more minutes left?
  • Mpira umeshaanza?/ Mechi imeshaanza? – has the match started?
  • Tumefunga!  – we’ve scored!
  • Tumeshinda  – we’ve won!
  • Dah! Tumefungwa bwana – – it’s a pity, we’ve been beaten man!
  • Tumeshinda kwa magoli xxx kwa xxx  – we’ve won by xxx to xxx goals
  • Bila –  nil
  • Moja, moja  – 1-1
  • Moja, bila – 1-0
  • Bila, bila –  0-0

So yeahs, no more excuses you’ve got about an hr and a half to go out there and cheer on whichever team you’ll be supporting. As for me am gonna enjoy Holland’s win but hope they are in no way responsible for taking out either Nigeria or Algeria in the future -#goteamafrika!