To be able to pronounce Swahili words correctly, I strongly recommend the Teach Yourself Swahili CD. You can also check out the Introduction to Kiswahili Language byAbdulGhany Mohammed and Kassim A. Abdullah or the Swahili Pronunciation Guideby Thomas Hinnebusch and Sarah Mirza. Some pronunciation is provided in each section of this page in MP3 format. Just click on the Swahili words. You may have to replay the words in some cases.
Quick Swahili Lessons
Many readers of this page have been asking me where they can have quick Swahili lessons. The Teach Yourself Swahili CD has been prepared exactly to address that need. For those who get a chance to visit Zanzibar, Tanzania, they can have Swahili lessons from the Institute of Kiswahili and Foreign Languages, Zanzibar. Follow the link for more information. Various universities in North America, Europe, and Asia, also offer such lessons. You may locate through the Internet the one that is closest to you.
Swahili is one of the easiest languages to learn. Here are a few basic things to know about Swahili:
Swahili verbs always carry with them the subject (and sometimes the object) and the tense. For example, Ninakula, is a complete sentence which means "I am eating". Ni-prefix stands for the subject "I", the -na- affix stands for "am" showing the tense i.e. the "present continuous" tense, and -kula is the root of the verb "eat".
Another example, Alitupa zawadi which means "He/She gave us gifts". First of all note that in the Swahili language, the pronouns are the same for all the genders - he, him, she, and her are not distinguishable in Swahili - same words, prefixes, affixes and suffixes are used. The well sought after "gender equality" is in-built in the Swahili language!! Now back to the sentence. The prefix A- stands for the subject "He" or "She", the -li- affix indicates the past tense, the -tu- affix stands for the object "us", and-pa is the root of the verb "give".
In Swahili, Saturday is the first day of the week. The sixth day of the week, Thursday, is mostly pronounced as "Alkhamisi" to match the way it is pronounced in its Arabic origin. Thursday and Friday both are of Arabic origin. They probably replaced the original Bantu names of those days due to their special place in the Islamic religion. Note that in Arabic, "Alkhamis" means the fifth day of the Arabic week while Thursday is actually the sixth day of the Swahili week! Sort of we ended up with two fifth days of the week: "Jumatano" and "Alkhamisi"!
It is interesting to note that in the Swahili culture the day starts at sunrise (unlike in the Arab world where the day starts at sunset, and in the Western world where the day starts at midnight). Sunrise in East Africa, being exactly at the Equator, happens every day at approximately 6:00 a.m. And for that reason, 6:00 a.m. is "0:00 morning" Swahili time. By "Swahili time" I mean the time as spoken in Swahili.
So the hands of a watch or clock meant to read Swahili time would always point to a number opposite to the number for the actual time as spoken in English. That is, the Swahili time anywhere in the world (not just East Africa) is delayed by 6 hours.
Therefore 7:00 a.m. is "1:00 morning" (saa moja asubuhi) Swahili time; midnight is "6:00 night" (saa sita usiku) Swahili time. 5:00 a.m. is "11:00 early morning" (saa kumi na moja alfajiri) Swahili time.
Note also that the Swahili time doesn't use "noon" as the reference as in a.m. (before noon) and p.m. (after noon). The time is spoken using "alfajiri" which is the early morning time during which the morning light has started to shine but the sun has not risen yet; "asubuhi" which is the morning time between sunrise and a little before noon; "mchana" which is from around noon to around 3:00 p.m.; "alasiri" which is from around 3:00 p.m. to sunset; "jioni" which is the entire time period from around 3:00 p.m. up to a little before 7:00 p.m.; and "usiku" which is the entire time period from around 7:00 p.m. to early morning.