What languages are spoken in Kenya?

Kenya is a linguistically diverse country.

When visiting Kenya, the ability to speak some basic Swahili can win you many smiles, not to mention the fact that it is a fun language to speak and learn! Knowledge of Swahili becomes even more essential if you plan to stay or work outside of the urban areas, or in the more remote parts of Kenya where most people do not speak English.

Apart from English and Swahili, Kenya's two official languages, each of the country's 42 ethnic groups also has its own unique dialect.

Official Languages of Kenya

English was inherited from Kenya's British colonial past. English is the language of choice in business, academics and social set-ups in Kenya.

Swahili (also called Kiswahili) is the national language of Kenya. It is a unifying African language spoken by nearly 100 percent of the Kenyan population. Even illiterate Kenyans know some basic Swahili. The purest form of Kiswahili is spoken along the coast where native Swahili people live. Swahili is one of the most common African languages and it is spoken in many countries other than Kenya, such as Tanzania, Burundi, Uganda and Zaire.

Indigenous Languages in Kenya

Kenya's ethnic languages are spoken mostly in rural settings and in homes where all members belong to the same ethnic group. The most dominant of the indigenous languages are Kikuyu, Dholuo and Luhya.

Kikuyu is the language of the Kikuyu people, Kenya's largest ethnic group. It is closely related to the Embu, Mbeere, and Meru languages spoken by neighboring communities in the Mount Kenya region.

The Kikuyu language is widely spoken in Kenyan towns, even by members of other ethnic groups. This is particularly true in business situations. Since Kikuyu people run the majority of Kenya's businesses, it is common to find people conducting business in the Kikuyu language. As a result, other business people have had to adapt and learn Kikuyu as a matter of necessity.

The Luhya language is not a single language but rather, it is a collection of mutually understood dialects spoken by the Luhya people of Western Kenya. The Luhya are the second largest ethnic group following the Kikuyu. The two biggest Luhya sub-tribes are the Maragoli and the Bukusu.

Dholuo is the language of the Luo people, the third most populous ethnic group. The language is so melodious that other Kenyans find it fascinating to listen to.


Sheng is a commonly spoken slang in Kenya's capital, Nairobi. It is a mixture of Swahili and English, with a sprinkling of other indigenous languages. In fact, Sheng is more than just slang - it's a lifestyle, especially among the urban youth who, today, are more fluent in Sheng than in the purer forms of Kiswahili.

Here is some basic Swahili to help you make the most of your Kenya's everyday communicating words.


Hello Jambo
Good morning Habari ya asubuhi
Good afternoon Habari ya mchana
Good evening Habari ya jioni
Good night Usiku mwema

Polite Expressions

Thank you Asante
I love you Nakupenda
Excuse me Samahani
Can I please have... Tafadhali nipatie...
Please Tafadhali
You are welcome Karibu
Sorry Pole
No problem! Hakuna matata!


My name is... Ninaitwa / Jina langu ni...
What is your name? Unaitwa nani?
Where are you from? Unatoka wapi?
I come from... Ninatoka...

Other popular English to Swahili Expressions

How much money? Shillingi ngapi?
Don't worry Usijali
Safe journey Safari njema
Water Maji
Do you speak English? Unajua kizungu?
Pardon Samahani
Good / Fine Sawa / Sawasawa
Listen Sikiza
What? Nini?
Why? Kwa nini?
Where? Wapi?
Who? Nani

Related Kenya Information

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