LESSON #92: Ati nini?!! (say what?!)

Just like English, Swahili has many variations. Of course there’s the ultimate standard Swahili, just like we have the Queen’s English and since I come from the birthplace of Swahili itself am gonna list a couple of things that have different names from the ones we know on my side of the border. We also have words that have different meanings depending on whether you are in the land of naomba or the land of hakuna matata.

Lets get cracking:

  • Grandmother/old woman, wife, tomato – yup, these are all related, just stay with me on this one. Starting with grandma, in Tanzania we call her bibi but in Kenya they call her nyanya. Here’s where it gets interesting though. If you go to Kenya and introduce your grandma as bibi you are sure to get funny looks because you just introduced her as your wife! Am not finished yet, if a Kenyan goes to TZ and introduces their grandma as nyanya then they’ll get even funnier looks as they just referred to the poor woman as a tomato! Confused? Ok let’s break it down, in TZ a grandma= bibi whilst a tomato= nyanya. In Kenya a grandma= nyanya whilst a tomato =…well still nyanya! So double meanings there. At the same time a wife= bibi  in Kenya whilst in TZ its= mke. Alright catch your breath then read on…

  • Electricity – not too complicated this one, just 2 different words. In TZ it’s umeme whilst in Kenya it’s stima.

  • Sweets/candy – in TZ it’s pipi whilst in Kenya particularly in the coastal area where their Swahili is pretty much on par with ours they call it peremende. Everywhere else most people just say sweet/s. Candy isn’t that common as British English is the standard around those parts.

  • Batteries – again not too complicated.  In TZ we swahilinize it and say betri whilst in Kenya they say makaaor sometimes mawe. Ok I’ll complicate that just a teeny weeny bit, i

    n TZ mawe means stones.

  • Skirt – very slight difference here, just a vowel’s worth. We both swahilinized this word so whilst in TZ we say sketi my cousins the Kenyans prefer skati.

  • Shirt – same idea as skirt,  so its sheti for TZ and shati for Kenya.

There’s plenty more of course which as always you can point out to me on the comments section and if you have any questions let me know as well. Tukutane punde!



LESSON #91: Swahilinization

Not sure the above is a legit term but I use it to refer to the making of foreign words into Swahili sounding ones without losing the original word’s essence. The good thing about Swahili is that if you don’t know what a word (particularly an English one) is in Swahili, it’s absolutely acceptable to swahilinize it even though it may not be a recognised word in the kamusi. As long as the other party gets the meaning then well and good. (Though I advise my students to employ this technique sparingly as otherwise their Swahili vocabulary may suffer).

If you are a keen Swahili student then you must have come across noun classes (ngeli). One easily recognizable one is the N class whose main characteristic is that many of its nouns tend to be borrowed from other languages. In what sense are they borrowed? Swahilinization.

I haven’t come across a rule or formula to be used when swahilinizing but here’s a number of N class swahilinized nouns that may give you an idea of how to go about it. Am not gonna translate them for you since am confident you can figure that out pretty easily. Go on, impress me 😉

mashine, sinema, picha, baiskeli, skuli, shule, motokaa, trekta, kompyuta, soksi, sketi, shati, blauzi, boti, pea, papai, peni, penseli, begi, n.k.

LESSON #90: Methali…#8

“Ponda mali kufa kwaja”

Ponda- crush

Mali- wealth/money

Kufa- dying/to die

Kwaja- is coming/cometh

As you may have already figured out this means spend/enjoy your wealth/money because eventually death awaits you. Very sobering message if you ask me! And thats my message for the weekend, live life but live it wisely cuz death does await you 😉


LESSON #89: Swahili with lyrics…#02 (Majanga)-UPDATED

I did promise I would cover this song and since ahadi ni deni (a promise is a debt) here you go. The lyrics are interesting in that the type of Swahili used is more poetic than your usual grammatically correct kind of Swahili, so keeping that in mind I will translate in a way that is better understood by those who are not too knowledgeable in the language.

As for the general meaning it’s referring to one person doing all the dirty work whilst somebody else is reaping all the benefits or in other cases the person that should be compensated for losses/damage caused to them is the one being accused of causing them in the first place. You get the drift. So without further ado… (enjoy singing along while I translate, will be done in a minute)


Mama yuko hoi mama, tumpeleke hospitalini, dokta anataka salali
mom is in bad condition, we should take her to the hospital, the doctor (however) is asking for his salary

Pigwa nimepigwa mie, polisi kawahi yeye, kibao nimegeuziwa mie
am the one who got beaten, he’s the one who hurried to the police, now the tables have been turned against me

Pombe nimenunua mie, kulewa kalewa yeye, ugomvi kaanzisha yeye
I bought the alcohol, yet he’s the one that got drunk, he’s the one that started a fight
Kijijini nimtoe mie, kumlisha nimlishe mie, jeuri afanye yeye
I get her from the village, I feed her, yet she’s the one being rude to me/showing me attitude

Majanga, majanga mbona majanga, mbona majanga….
disaster, disaster, this is just disaster

Ndoa tumefunga sie, mapenzi yetu wenyewe, talaka udai wewe
we got married, it’s our love, but you are the one asking for a divorce
Nyimbo nimeimba mie, video nimeshuti mie, shoo ukafanye wewe
I sang the song, I shot the video, you are the one doing the shows
Chumba nimetafuta mie, kodi nilipe mwenyewe, nje unilaze wewe
I looked for the room, I paid the rent, yet you are the one making me sleep outside
Gari ninunue mie, mafuta niweke mie, misele upige wewe
I buy the car, I buy gas, yet you are the one cruising in it

Majanga, majanga…..

Kumzaa nimzae mie, kumlea nimlee mie, matusi anitukane yeye
I give birth to him, I raise him, yet he’s the one insulting me
Mahari atoe yeye, kuoa aoe yeye, vya ndani uvile wewe

he pays the bride price (dowry), he marries (the girl), yet you are the one enjoying the benefits (having an affair with the wife
Hela katafuta yeye, nyumba kajenga mwenyewe, mali tugombee sie
he worked for the money, he built the house, yet we are the ones fighting for his property (after death)
Kufiwa nifiwe mie, kulia nilie mie, pole uchukue wewe
I am the bereaved, I am the one mourning, yet you are the one accepting the condolence money

Majanga, majanga…

Translation Challenge #8…(swa-eng)

Mvua za Bongo:

Miaka saba imepita tangu niondoke nyumbani, nimerudi hivi majuzi tu. Loh! Niliyoyaona yameniacha kinywa wazi! Wahenga walisema ukishangaa ya Musa utayaona ya Firauni, ama kweli nimeyaona.

Hivi karibuni msimu wa mvua za masika ulianza. Basi kero tunazozipata wakazi wa Dar ni kubwa sana. Matope kila unapokwenda, foleni za magari zisizoisha, maji machafu kujaa barabarani, madaraja kuvunjika na mito kufurika na kusababisha wanaoishi bondeni kulazimika kuhama kwani mali zao zote aidha zimesombwa au kuharibiwa na maji.

Kibaya zaidi hali hii haibadiliki kila mwaka ni yale yale. Viongozi wetu wanazidi kutuangusha kwa hili. Miundombinu ni mibovu na haifai kwa karne hii ya ishirini na moja. Tunaomba tu Mola uchaguzi mkuu ukifika mwakani wananchi wawapigie kura viongozi watakaotuokoa na haya majanga yanayosababishwa na mvua. Mungu ibariki Tanzania.

LESSON #88: Swahili Sounds…#3 (“mb-” & “mw-“)

Moving on from lesson #81 (“dh-” sound), let’s look at two of m- combination sounds that may give Swahili learners a bit of a headache.

i) mb-
This sounds the same as in the English words remember, December, number  etc.

So you get mba – mbe – mbi – mbo – mbu

And Swahili words like nambari, embe, mbio, mboga, mbu na kadhalika (etc)


ii) mw-
I believe this sound doesn’t exist in English (ready to stand corrected of course).

You get mwa – mwe – mwi – mwo – mwu

And Swahili words like mwanadamu, mwezi, mwizi, mwongozo, mwuguzi na kadhalika.


So now you’ve learnt 4 important Swahili sounds plus of course the vowels hence your pronunciation has no business being mediocre still, you should have been upgraded atleast about 20-30%?!

Till next time…

LESSON #87: Ipi ni ipi?…#12



Whip/ lash (acquired the name from the material used to make it-hippo hide)

Lastly, this more of a slang word, we usually refer to a great/awesome/amazing…person as kiboko. I’d like to think I too fall under that category 😉

LESSON #86: Yes or No…

If you speak 2 or more languages, you are likely to have discovered that different languages use yes/no in different ways. What I mean is, for example my native language being Swahili, when I first started learning English I really struggled because the two words weren’t used in the same way as in Swahili. Whereas I’d normally reply with ndiyo in Swahili, I soon discovered that I should actually say the opposite, hapana,  in English, and vice versa.

To give an example, let’s compare 2 questions requiring the answer yes or no and see how the answers differ in the 2 languages. (ndio = yes, hapana = no)

i) Have you eaten?…..yes I have
Umekula?…….ndio nimekula (yes, I have)
So far so good, now lets try this:

ii) Have you eaten?……no, I haven’t
Umekula?……….hapana, sijala (no, I haven’t)
Still doing good right? Now lets mess with your heads a bit…

iii) Haven’t you eaten?…….no, I haven’t
Hujala?………ndio, sijala (yes, I haven’t)

iv) Haven’t you eaten?………yes, I have
Hujala?…………hapana, nimekula (no, I have)

Makes you want to tear your hair out right? Yeahs my exact reaction many years ago when I first started learning English! Honestly though, I think the Swahili version makes more sense compared to English, but then again am guessing the English will find our usage equally mind boggling- to each their own then!

So lets make it easy and try inventing a formula:
English: affirmative question= fully affirmative/fully negative answer
Swahili: same thing

English: negative question= fully affirmative/fully negative answer
Swahili: negative question= mixed answer, never fully affirmative or negative.

The little Korean I know has taught me that our use of the 2 are similar, not too sure how other languages compare so feel free to share below.

Akhsanteni na kwaherini!

LESSON #85: Kupiga…

The verb kupiga can be used in combination with different nouns to mean many things. The verb itself means to hit or beat.


The list is pretty much inexhaustible so here’s a couple of phrases:

  • Kupiga mswaki  

    – to brush one’s teeth

  • Kupiga simu 

    – to make a phone call

  • Kupiga kelele 

    – to shout/scream

  • Kupiga domo – to talk (and talk, and talk…)
  • Kupiga makofi – to clap
  • Kupiga ngoma 

    – to beat/play drums Read More