Zanzibar, an archipelago located 25 miles off the coast of Tanzania, has recently earned itself a name as a tropical paradise and one of the best places to get away for relaxation in the world. As National Geographic writes, Zanzibar, made up of the islands of Pemba, Unguja, and Zanzibar, offers chances to see unique Indian Ocean reefs, rare marine species, like the hawksbill turtle, and enjoy the gentle, slightly salty breeze coming off the water as you sunbathe. For others, Zanzibar’s historic ties to the spice trades of old make it an attractive place to visit. It’s no wonder that the archipelago now has its fair share of exclusive resorts.
Whether you plan to visit Zanzibar to relax or learn, you’ll likely find one significant obstacle: the mother language of Zanzibar is Swahili. While the archipelago’s exclusive resorts are staffed with English-speaking employees, heading to many of the less traveled areas will find tourists in a world where communication is difficult at best, unless you speak the local language. Prepare for these issues with this short guide to survival Swahili.
A Note About Pronunciation
As My Languages.org points out, most romanized Swahili letters are pronounced just as they would be in English. However, the vowels might have different sounds than you’re used to. “A” should be pronounced as in the word “car,”"E” as in the word “bed,” and “I” as in the word “wheel.” “O” should take on its “off” pronunciation, and “U” will retain the form it takes in “cool.” Now that you’ve got the pronunciation down, take a look at these essential Swahili phrases.
- “Sisemi siSwahili”
- “Unazungumza kiingereza?”
- “Ni wapi choo?”
- “Nataka kuona daktari”
“Jambo” means “hello.” This will likely be one of the easiest words to remember, as whether you’re at luxury resorts or heading to a local restaurant, servers, locals, and others will greet you with this simple phrase.
You likely won’t need this phrase at any of the country’s holiday resorts, but when you’re shopping on the streets or out for a meal, knowing how to say “I don’t speak Swahili” can save you a lot of frustration. Just remember the pronunciation guide; this phrase should be pronounced as “See-seh-me see-swa-hee-lee.”
“Unazunqumza kiingereza?” means “Do you speak English?” If you get lost while adventuring into the lesser developed parts of Pemba or you venture into a bar that usually caters to locals, knowing how to ask this question can be the difference between walking around blind and getting the direction you need. You can avoid the situation entirely by asking the staff at local vacation resorts what venues are the most tourist friendly.
If you need to ask where to find the bathroom, you should ask “Ni wapi choo?” This can be extremely important if you have a sensitive stomach that won’t take kindly to the different spices and other ingredients used in local Zanzibari cuisine.
If you learn no other phrase on this list, make sure you learn “Nataka kuona daktari.” Whether you’ve eaten something that doesn’t sit well with your stomach or you’ve sat out too long at one of the area’s famed beach resorts, you’re going to need to tell people “I need a doctor.” More likely than not, you won’t need it, but who knows?
Traveling to Zanzibar and staying in its exclusive resorts is sure to be a magical experience. With these simple Swahili survival phrases, you can make sure you’re ready for any situation. Helpful links.