Jambo Means Hello:



Author: Jane Jurinak-Harris

Level: Early Elementary

"The languages of the world are the songs of the earth."


Africa is the second-largest continent in the world and home to over 50 nations with a combined total population twice the size of the United States. It is a vast and diverse land of waterfalls, deserts, rain forests and grasslands. The languages of Africa are also diverse with 800-1,000 different languages spoken among the people.

One of the most common languages spoken is Swahili (or Kiswahili, which is the proper way to identify the language.) Swahili is an Arabic word meaning "of the coast" or people of the coast." It is one of 80 Bantu (African) languages, and is the national language of Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, and is spoken in Burundi, Rwanda and Zaire, and other parts of central and eastern Africa.

Swahili was not a written language until after the arrival of British colonists. The British influence may explain why the pronunciation of the vowels and consonants found in Swahili and the Kiswahili alphabet is similar to American English. The Kiswahili alphabet consists of 24 letters, lacking the letters Q and X.


1. Students will gain an appreciation for Swahili as a language spoken in many parts of Africa.

2. Students will share and illustrate words from their own culture using English and Swahili and others to create
a word quilt.

Materials Needed:

1. Jambo Means Hello: Swahili Alphabet Book. by Muriel Feelings

2. English/Swahili Dictionary

3. Plain or colored paper cut into 8" squares or 1./2 sheet of 8"x11"

4. Variety of writing tools, crayons and markers.

5. List of 26 English/Swahili words

6. World map or globe.


1. Greet each child as they arrive in the morning with "Jambo "(jahm-bow), or with "Karibu,' (kah-ree-boo), meaning hello or welcome. "Does anyone know what I was saying to you as you came into the room?" (Let the children guess.) "The language I was speaking was Swahili. Jambo means hello, and karibu means welcome."

2. "Swahili is spoken on the continent of Africa. That's quite far from where we live. Can anyone tell us what town we live in? Can anyone show us what state we live in on the map? (or globe) The continent our state is in is the North American continent. Can anyone show us where Africa is located? (Show where the continent of Africa is.) As you can see Africa is far from the North American continent and far from our state."

3. "Imagine if every state in the United States had its own language. We would have a lot of languages, but not as many as on the African continent." Explain that over 800 languages are spoken in Africa and Swahili is spoken in many parts of central and eastern Africa.

4. Show the class, Jambo Means Hello: Swahili Alphabet Book. "Today, we are going to learn some new words. They are words that are spoken in Africa. They are Swahili. Listen to the Swahili alphabet, notice if it is like ours or different. Listen to how the words sound and what the words mean. We will talk about our new words after I finish reading the book."

5. Read the story to the class.

6. Open a discussion with the children. "What did you notice about the Swahili alphabet? Was it like ours? Point out that the Swahili alphabet doesn't contain the letters Q or X. "Why do you think the author picked these words to share? What words did you like the best? Why?" (Students may respond they liked the sound or the meaning of the word.) Explain that words have meaning in every culture, and that the spoken language is one way that we communicate. "What are some words that are in this book that we would use...only we would say them in English. For example, do we use the word "hello" in our town? What about "father" or "school?" Help children notice that the words shared in Jambo Means Hello have meanings similar to words they use everyday. "Why do you think language is important? Why would it be important to know Swahili if you had an African friend or were traveling in central or eastern Africa?"


"We are going to imagine that we will be traveling to Africa. We are going to be making a word sharing quilt for our
friends. We will each be able to contribute one word to our quilt. This will help them know something about us, just as we know more about them after learning about the Swahili alphabet.

1. "Take a few minutes and look at the words I have written on the chart. These are some words we could take to Africa and design into our quilt. The first word is written in English, the word right next to it is written in Swahili."

2. Say each word in English, then in Swahili.

3." Pick one word that is special to you. It's okay if someone chooses the same word. If you would like to think of another word that's fine too. I'll look up the word in Swahili and put it on a slip of paper for you to look at."

4. "Each of you has been given a piece of paper. Draw a picture that illustrates what your word means. Write on your drawing your English word and the Swahili word. That way we can share our English word and learn a new Swahili word at the same time."

5. "After you have written your words and drawn your picture, we will arrange the quilt squares under the border I've put on the wall labeled "English/Swahili: Sharing Languages with our African Friends."
6. Have children arrange quilt squares on the wall.



"When we learn Swahili, we find out that we have many things in common with people who live in Africa. The words may sound different, but we share the same meanings. Their words help us to understand the African culture better. What word did you find interesting today?"


Students will have selected a word to share in English and Swahili, correctly written it in English and Swahili, and illustrated it appropriately, for a word sharing quilt.


Return to Africa Table of Contents


Feelings, M. (1974). Jambo Means Hello: Swahili Alphabet Book. New York N.Y.: Dial Book
www.africaonline.con/AfricaOnline/kidsonly/languages/index.html (1997) Africa Online Inc.