Learn Swahili

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About Swahili

Swahili, or Kiswahili, is a national language of Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and the DRC, and is also spoken as a lingua franca across East Africa. People who speak it as a second language vastly outnumber those who speak it as a native language. Swahili is part of the Bantu language family, meaning it shares characteristics with languages such as Zulu, Kinyarwanda and Lingala, but its vocabulary has been strongly influenced by Arabic - even the name ‘Swahili’ comes from Arabic. Swahili has many dialects: the standard variant, Kiunguja, is based on the dialect of Zanzibar Town.

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Planet Earth

Where is it spoken?

Tanzania

Kenya

Uganda

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Rwanda

Burundi

Somalia

Zambia

Malawi

People Talking

Number of speakers

80,000,000

Family Tree

Language family

Niger-Congo

Atlantic–Congo

Benue-Congo

Bantu

Fun facts — Swahili

  • The word Swahili originates from the Arabic word سَوَاحِلِىّ (sawāḥilī) meaning ‘of the coast’ because the language evolved from the contact of Arabian traders with the inhabitants of the east coast of Africa.
  • Swahili borrows a lot of words from Arabic, such as 'dakika' for minute, 'saa' for hour and 'tafadhali' for please.
  • Forming a question is easy: you can just add 'je' to the front of the sentence.
  • The greeting 'habari' means 'news' - from 'what's your news?'

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