isiZulu phrasebook for tourists


    South Africa is a friendly country, and if you’re travelling around, take the time to speak to people you meet.

    Don’t be afraid to try a new language and, although they might correct your pronunciation, most people will respect the effort you’re making in their language.

    isiZulu is the first language of about a quarter of all South Africans, and is understood by many more.

    Pronunciation is very simple in isiZulu, and there are fewer click sounds than in isiXhosa. Generally the emphasis falls on the first syllable, for example: “ Unjani?” The last syllable of each word, except in a question, is often dropped, so sawubona may be spoken as sawubon’.

    isiZulu words are compound words, which at first glance can be intimidating. The first syllables include pronouns, tense and usage case. The suffix may change for the negative.

    Additionally, isiZulu nouns have classes, analogous to the genders found in many European languages, except that there are many more classes.

    If all of that sounds complicated, don’t worry. As a spoken language, isiZulu is very easy to pick up, and intuitive to use. The best way to learn is to get out there and practise!


    Greeting (singular)

    Sawubona Hello. This greeting is an acknowledgement of having seen the other person. If you are greeted in this way, you could reply:

    Yebo, sawubona: Yes, I see you.

    Unjani? How are you?

    Ngiyaphila, wena usaphila? I am well, how are you?

    Kulungile Good.


    Greeting (plural)

    Sanibonani: I see you.

    Yebo, sanibonani: Yes, I see you.

    Ninjani? How are you?

    Siyaphila: We are well.


    Useful phrases

    Yebo: Yes.

    Cha: No.

    Ngicela: Please. (The c is pronounced with a click, similar to a ch sound.)

    Ngiyabonga: Thank you.

    Uxolo: Excuse me. (The x is pronounced with a click in the back of the mouth, making a sound like kho.)

    Kulungile: That’s all right.

    Ukhuluma isingisi? Do you speak English?

    Nibizani lokho? What do you call that?

    Lokho kusho ukuthini? What does that mean?

    Angizwa I don’t understand.

    Angikhulumi isiZulu I don’t speak isiZulu.

    Ngiphuma e. I am from .

    Kuphi? Where?

    Nini? When?

    Yini? What?

    Kanjani? How?

    Kungaki? How much?

    Kungaki? How many?

    Ubani? Who?

    Ngani? Why?

    Iphi? Which?

    Ungisize! Help

    Ngiyabonga! Thank you.

    SAinfo reporter

    Reviewed: October 2013

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