Making connections on safari
It starts with ‘hello’
Embarking on an African safari is an exhilarating experience – big game during the day, hearty bush-cooked meals at night, followed by whisky or wine by the fire. But what many don’t anticipate, is all the deep personal connections one can make.
As much as a safari is about the lodges, camps, landscapes, and wildlife, it’s also about the people you’ll meet along the way. An often overlooked aspect is the chance to immerse yourself in Africa’s rich culture and linguistic diversity. As you traverse each new region, you’ll quickly discover a multitude of languages and even more dialects scattered across the continent!
Although English is widely spoken, greeting locals in their home language is always appreciated if you’re willing to make the effort. With just a few phrases, you can completely change your daily interactions while on safari – it’s astounding just how surprised people can be when you fling out a ‘jumbo’ in the Maasai Mara or a ‘molweni’ down in Cape Town.
Want to deepen your safari experience with several phrases to help break the ice? Here are a few basics to keep in your back pocket:
First up, Zimbabwe. While English is the official language, for most Zimbabweans’ Shona or Ndebele is considered their first language. Here are a few Shona phrases to master:
Good bye: Chisarai zvakanaka
Thank You: Ndatenda/Masvita
Here are some Ndebele phrases to try:
Good bye: Lisale kuhle
Thank You: Siyabonga kakulu
Here’s a great resource to help you master the basics before you embark on your Zimbabwean safari.
English may be Botswana’s official language, but most locals speak Setswana (also referred to as Tswana). Here are a few phrases to whip out on your next safari:
Hello: Dumela mma/rra (to woman/man)
Good Bye: Sala sentle/tsamaya sentle
Thank you: Ke a leboga
Aside from English, other major languages spoken in Namibia include Damara and Herero. But Deutsch (Namlish or Namsläng) is also prominent within a small percentage of the population since it was a former German colony. Here are several phrases in Herero/Himba spoken in the north-central and northwest regions of the country.
Good bye: Kara/kari nawa
Thank you: Okuhepa
Several indigenous languages are spoken In Mozambique (like Chopi and Tonga) along with English, but as a former Portuguese colony, Portuguese is the most widely spoken language.
Goodbye: Até logo
Good morning: Bom dia
Good afternoon: Boa tarde
Good evening: Boa noite
Thank you: Obrigado
Excuse me: Faz favour
I am lost: Eu estou perdido
If you’re interested in learning from a local before you head to Mozam, here’s a list of tutors who can help.
With 12 official languages, South Africa might seem daunting, but if you can master a few words in the three primary languages listed below, you’re doing quite well. English is widely spoken, but you’ll also encounter Afrikaans, Zulu, and Xhosa, depending on where you go.
Here are a few Zulu phrases to remember:
Good bye: Sala kahle
Thank you: Ngiyabonga
Good bye: Sala kakuhle
Thank you: Enkosi
And finally, Afrikaans:
Hello: Hallo/ Hoe gaan dit?
Goodbye: Tot siens
Thank you: Dankie
As a side note, we would be more than happy to include lessons in your itinerary should you wish to master some of South Africa’s local languages.
Head into the Kalahari from Namibia, Botswana, or South Africa, and you’re guaranteed to hear some of the Khoisan language families characterized by click consonants. It’s music to the ears, with 70% of their words beginning with a click! Although many of these are endangered and have no written record, the most widespread is Khoekhoe (also known as Khoekhoegowab, Nàmá, or Damara).
Khoekhoe is a tough one to master. But if you’re curious, give this video a watch, which explains the basics better than we can!
In Kenya, you’ll mostly hear Swahili (the national language), English, and Maa (the Maasai language). Younger urbanites in Nairobi will often speak Sheng, which is based on Swahili but borrows words from various languages. Here are a few worth Swahili phrases worth remembering:
Goodbye: Kwaheri (one person) / ni Kwaheri (to more than one person)
Good morning: Harbari sa asubuhi
How are you?: Habari?
I’m fine – Mzuri
Thank you: Asante (one person) / ni (to more than one person)
I’m from…: Natoka
Excuse me: Samahani
Okay: Sawa sawa
Where are the toilets? – Wapi choo?
With 200 million speakers in Africa, there is currently a renewed push to make Swahili a common unifying language across Africa.
Tanzania is a country of vast linguistic diversity (there is a total of 126!). However, like Kenya, Swahili is used as a lingua franca by the majority of the population, followed by English. If you are spending more than a week in Tanzania or are adding Kenya to your itinerary, it might be worth picking up a Swahili phrasebook or downloading an app.
Greeting people in their local language while you travel is a sure ice-breaker, and it’s the fact that you’re willing to try that often matters most. From your ranger to your waitress, your pilot to your driver, the faces there to greet you and make you feel at home are guaranteed to remain a highlight of your trip long after you return home.
Ready to embark on your next safari? Get in touch with our team, and let’s start planning.