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Jambo! Whether you have already booked your trekking or not, you are probably building up your excitement by reading all sorts of things about your upcoming adventure to Kilimanjaro. Language is one of the things that can initially keep us separated, but with a little bit of effort, it can be the icebreaker to make us come closer together. When you are headed for Uhuru Peak, you can make things a lot more interesting when you speak a few words of Swahili during your trek.

It is commonly believed that wherever you go, you can get around in English. Few people actually realize that English is only spoken by 20% of the Earth’s population. Only 350 million people speak English as their first language. There are about 126 languages spoken in Tanzania, but only two of those are official languages: English and Swahili. Swahili is not only the first language of the Swahili people, it is also the lingua franca of the African Great Lakes and eastern African countries like Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and of course Tanzania.

Elimu haina mwisho - You are never too old to learn

Swahili proverb

As most people in Tanzania have enjoyed their education in both Swahili and English, the latter language is commonly spoken across the country. With tourism being a major industry, English is considered an important language. Especially around Mount Kilimanjaro, it will be hard to find someone who does not speak English. People will, however, appreciate it when you make a conscious effort trying to speak their native language. It won’t take you long to learn the very basics like jambo and asante. Here we want to give you a few extras for along the trail up Uhuru Peak. Uhuru? Freedom!

Learning to speak Swahili

Because words are pronounced as they are written, Swahili is considered to be a relatively simply language to learn. Compared to some languages out there, Swahili has a pretty logic grammar structure. You do, however, have to make an effort to remember your vocabulary. When making your way to Kilimanjaro, you will soon hear a few loanwords in the language. The majority of loanwords comes from Arabic - This is because of a major Arabic influence in past times. If you want to make a headstart and wish to learn beyond the phrases listed below, you can find plenty of online resources. Kamusi is a great online project that offers a lot of knowledge for free. They also have a dictionary app for Android and iPhone. If you haven’t heard of Duolingo yet, this will be a great eye-opener. This app is a very hands-on way of learning the basics and, most importantly, keeping up with it. But why don’t you just close your eyes and pretend you already are in Moshi, Tanzania? Listen to Moshi FM!

Useful Phrases for your Trekking


Hello Jambo / Hujambo / Salama
How are you? Habari yako?
Fine Nzuri
Good bye Kwa heri / Kwa herini (Plural)
See you later Tutaonana
Nice to meet you Nafurahi kukuona
Goodnight Lala salama


Yes Ndio
No Hapana / La
Thank you Asante
Thank you very much Asante sana
Please Tafadhali
Okay Sawa
You’re welcome Karibu
Apologies / excuse me Samahani
What is your name? Jina lako ni?
Can you help me? Nisaidie tafadhali?
My name is John Jina langu ni John
Where are you from? Unatoka wapi?
I’m from ... Natokea …
Do you speak English? Unsema kiingereza?
Just a little bit Kidogu tu!
How do you say … in Swahili? Unasemaje … kwa kiswahili?
I don’t understand Sielewi
Friend Rafiki
Cheers Maisha marefu / Afya / Vifijo
Beer Bia

Mountain Talk

Mountain Mlima
Forest Msitu
Trail / Path Kijia
Tent Hema
Water Maji
Shoes Viatu
Peak Kilele
Bird Ndege
Animals Wanyama
Walking / hiking Kutembea
Sun Jua
Snow Theluji
Scenery Mandhari
Beautiful Nzuri!
Very tired Uchovu sana
Food Chakula
Dizzy Kizunguzungu
I’m sick Mimi ni mgonjwa
Headache Umwa kichwa

Days and Numbers

Today Leo
Tomorrow Kesho
Yesterday Jana
Now Sasa
Later Baadaye
Every day Kila siku
Monday Jumatatu
Tuesday Jumanne
Wednesday Jumatano
Thursday Alhamisi
Friday Ljumaa
Saturday Jumamosi
Sunday Jumapili
1 Moja
2 Mbili
3 Tatu
4 Nne
5 Tano
6 Sita
7 Saba
8 Nane
9 Tisa
10 Kumi
11 Kumi na moja (ten and one)
12 Kumi na mbili (ten and two)
20 Ishirini
30 Thelathini
40 Arobaini
50 Hamsini

Now that you have that sorted it's ready to get packing for Mount Kilimanjaro. Survive all the five climate zones of the roof of Africa and book your adventure! Do you want to find out everything there is to know about the roof of Africa? Read our long-read blog post about Mt Kilimanjaro and don't miss anything!

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