The Africa Classroom Package:
Swahili Swirl

Activity #3: Counting to Ten

Jambo! Karibu (welcome to) Part III of Swahili Swirl. In this section you'll learn how to count to ten in Swahili, then, by learning just two more words, you'll triple your knowledge of Swahili numbers. After that, you'll be just one simple step away from reaching our goal of being able to form over ONE MILLION Swahili sentences. Twenda! (Let's Go!) 

Group B Answers

      Here are the answers to Part II's 'Group B' list of Swahili borrow words (click here to see the Swahili pronunciation and spelling tips that appeared in Part II and explain why these borrow words are spelled the way they are):

redio = radio
karoti = carrot
skuli (also shule) = school
soda = soda                              daktari = doctor
televishioni = television                deski = desk
koti = coat                                  peya = pear
spinachi = spinach                      peni = penny
betri = battery                            waya = wire
blauzi = blouse                          komishna = commissioner
suweta = sweater                      garaji = garage
dola = dollar                              biya = beer
treni = train                                picha = picture
tai = tie                                    sigireti = cigarette
kalenda = calendar                    penseli = pencil
senti = cent                              futboli = football (soccer)
gilasi = glass                            soksi = sock
postkadi = postcard                    basi = bus
kontinenti = continent                  taula = towel
motoka = motorcar

      There! Thirty-four Swahili words that you (practically) already knew (since they are based on English words) - even though you didn't even know that you knew them! Actually, this list represents sixty-eight English words. That's because, for borrow words (though not for others), the singular is the same as the plural in Swahili. So, treni  can mean 'train' or 'trains' depending on the context, just as soksi  can mean 'sock' or 'socks.'

A Trick

      So, now that you've got the knack for deciphering Swahili words borrowed from English, see if you can guess what these two Swahili words mean:

1. Mama
2. Dada

      Easy? Well, you probably guessed the first one: it means Mom, or mother. But the second one is a trick. It doesn't mean Dad or father; it means 'sister.' Remember, the words in Group B are words that Swahili borrowed from English; but, most Swahili words did not come from English. Even though dada and mama resemble English words, they are original Swahili words. 'Father' in Swahili, by the way, is baba; and 'brother' is kaka, which means something entirely different in Spanish!


      It should be noted that some scholars and politicians in East Africa do not like the idea that Swahili borrows words from English. To make their language more African, they are trying to stop the borrowing trend by inventing original Swahili words to replace the borrow words. (France is trying to protect French from English in the same way.) But, it is difficult to convince people to substitute a brand new and unfamiliar word with one they are already used to (imagine being told you had to use the term 'cornbun' instead of 'taco' because 'taco' is Mexican).  So, most of the words in our list would be immediately recognized and understood by most Swahili speakers.

Group C Words - Numbers

      The next list of Swahili words you will learn, numbers, will exponentially increase the number of Swahili phrases you can make. Here are the Swahili numbers one through ten - with pronunciations in parentheses:

moja (moe-jah)
mbili (mm-bee-lee)
tatu (tah-too)
nne (nn-nay)
tano (tah-no)
sita (see-tah)
saba (saw-bah)
nane (nah-nay)
tisa (tee-saw)
kumi (koo-mee)

(Remember that in Swahili, the stress is on the second to last syllable.)

      Memorize this list and you'll be only two Swahili words away from meeting our goal. You'll learn those two words next time. But, for fun, here are two more words that can allow you to nearly triple your knowledge of Swahili numbers: 

na (nah) - and
ishirini (ee-she-ree-nee) twenty

      To form the Swahili numbers from eleven to twenty, all you need to do is take the word for ten, kumi, and add the word na (and), plus the number you already know that, when added to ten, will make the number you are trying to make. In other words, the word eleven in Swahili literally translates, 'ten and one,' twelve is 'ten and two,' thirteen is 'ten and three,' and so on all the way to nineteen ('ten and nine'). So, in Swahili, those words look like this:

kumi na moja
kumi na mbili
kumi na tatu
kumi na nne
kumi na tano
kumi na sita
kumi na saba
kumi na nane
kumi na tisa

        Twenty in Swahili is ishirini; so, to make the numbers following it, add na plus the number that, when added to twenty, makes the number you want:

ishirini na moja
ishirini na mbili
etcetera, all the way to 29 (ishirini na tisa).

      Easy, sindiyo (isn't it)?

      The word for zero, by the way, is sifuri.

      Nothing to it. That's it for Part Three. In Part Four, you'll learn two more Swahili words, then we'll do the math to prove that, upon completing Swahili Swirl, you'll be able to make more than one million Swahili sentences - lots more, in fact!

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