Pronunciation & Greetings


Swahili pronunciation is simple, and I want to keep it that way.  Swahili is used as the lingua franca of Africa languages in East Africa (while English is the Indo-European one).  That means that Swahili is the most widely used African language; however, it is not the mother tongue of the majority of East Africans.  They have to learn it as a second language just as you do.  That means that their pronunciation is probably not perfect, and we are not going to be worrying about making yours perfect either.


Basically all of Swahili words stress the penultimate syllable (which means the second to last one) e.g. matatu (ma-ta-too) = bus, ugali (oo-ga-lee) = cornmeal, and mzungu (m-zoon-goo) = white person.


So ALL of the single consonants letters are pronounced exactly like how you think they should be pronounced judging by their Roman alphabetical representation (that is the same alphabet that English uses) such as: b, d, f, g, h, j, k, l, m, n, p, r, s ,t, v, w, y & z.

Now there are some two letter combinations that are pronounced as follows:

‘ch’ = chop e.g. chakula (cha-koo-la) = food

‘dh’ = this (voiced = with vocal vibration) e.g. dhahabu (dha-ha-boo) = gold

‘th’ = three (unvoiced = no vocal vibration) e.g. thelathin (thei-la-thin) = thirty

ng’ = thing (one sound of a ‘n’ pronounced towards the back of your throat where you pronounce the ‘g’ sound) e.g. ng’ombe (ngowm-bei) = cow

Note: if you see an ‘ng’ combination together that does not have an apostrophe after it, then you pronounce them as two different letters (and syllables) e.g. ngoma (n-gow-ma) = dance

Now there are two sounds that are not in the English language which are ‘gh’ & ‘kh’, but are both found in Arabic (and are probably from the Arabic language because Arabic has had a heavy lexical influence on Swahili). These sounds come from the throat region, and are the stereotypical sounds that a Westerner thinks of semitic language (Hebrew and Arabic) pronunciation. You know, the ones that sound like you are coughing up phlegm:

‘gh’ = ghaghagha (that sound when you gargle) (voiced = with vocal vibration) e.g. ghali (gha-lee) = expensive (speaking of Arabic this word is clearly from it).

‘kh’ = Loch (in Scottish English) or Bach (unvoiced = no vocal vibration) e.g. Khamis (kha-mees) = Thursday (speaking of Arabic again, this word is clearly from the it as well).


a: like the sound in father e.g. baba (ba-ba) = father

e: like the sound in eight e.g. pole (pow-lei) = sorry  BUT polepole = slowly

i: like the sound in see e.g. kisu (kee-soo) = knife

o: like the sound in no or oh e.g. jambo (jam-bow) = hello

u: like the sound in tooth e.g. mzungu (m-zoon-goo) = white person

1 Comment

  1. Hosting

    That’s it for today’s lesson. Using different greetings will make you sound more fluent, so try to remember as many as you can.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *