I find it very useful to learn and use basic phrases as much as possible when on mission trips. The locals seem to appreciate the effort and it is fun to learn new things. As my daughter noted, so many of them speak multiple languages compared to us.

We had some fun with the Swahili iPhone app when preparing for our Kenya mission trip. I created some .mp3 files in 2004 to help me memorize a few words and phrases and have shared those with others (“Learn Swahili with Neilie!”), but this app was much more thorough and entertaining – and, uh, higher quality (it is possible that I mispronounced a few words on the .mp3 files).

I am not making up the following examples:

Travel safety

  • Don’t shoot! (Practical, I suppose, but hopefully you don’t need that one.  And if you said it in English I doubt they’d think you were saying, “Yes, please shoot me!”  And my guess is that they won’t let you whip out your iPhone to double check the pronunciation.)
  • I didn’t know I was doing anything wrong (that doesn’t work for me in English, but maybe it will in Swahili)
  • Those drugs aren’t mine! (Oh, well, since they aren’t yours, carry on and have a nice day.)
  • There was an explosion

Food & Eating

  • I am a well known food critic in my country

At the bar

  • I’m not just saying this because I’m drunk


  • I am a marine biologist (That was the only career listed. I assume that was just an example, but perhaps being a marine biologist is the premier gateway to getting dates.)
  • I am very rich
  • I am famous
  • Will you marry me? (seems like you might want to both be fluent in the same language before asking that)
  • I’m not a stalker (really!)
  • I’m not just saying this because I’m drunk (Apparently that works in multiple categories.  It is probably a good one for the workplace, too.)

6 thoughts on “Swahili”

  1. I still have my Swahili with Nieli CD, and still remember most of the words! I am glad to know there is an app for that, and will download it for fun, but hopefully I will find use for it next year!


  2. “There was an explosion” – not sure that’s a line I’d ever want to use, at least I hope not. I like the pick-up lines, but why were you practicing those? And as for “I am a well-known food critic in my country” – if I said that I’d probably give them a bad impression of the US. 🙂


  3. Neil, I keep coming back to this post in my emails, because I forgot one comment I needed to make. One of the things I love about other languages is some of the word pictures that come out. For example the word “detente” is Russian and came out during the Cold War. The picture is a hunter who has found his prey and drawn back his bow, ready to fire the arrow in a sure kill. “Detente” is to loosen the tension on the bow.

    When you use that word picture, the word means so much more than it did when the news writers talked about it.

    Did you learn any good word pictures in Swahili?


    1. Just one comes to mind: We say, “Mzuri sana,” in response to being asked how we are. It means very fine. My word picture was feeling fine in a sauna in Missouri. Yes, it is a horrible word picture.


      1. There have been a lot of days this summer that felt like a Missouri sauna, but that wouldn’t qualify as “very fine”… 🙂


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