The difference between Swahili translator/interpreter from Kenya and Tanzania


Historically, the Swahili people are found at the coastal parts strip from Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, to as far as south to Mozambique. There are many theories explaining the origin of the Swahili people and their language.

One argument is that Swahili language was a dialect of Arabs who migrated and settled at the East African coast in 7th Century AD. Others believe that the language was born due to the interaction of the Arabs and the coastal inhabitants though trade and inter marriages. Another theory is that Swahili is a Bantu language spoken by locals who lived north of Kenyan coast to Somalia with the argument being that its morphology is similar to that of other Bantu languages.

The language is mostly spoken in Kenya and Tanzania where it has earned a status of official language. But even in these two countries there is a difference between Swahili translator/interpreter from Kenya and Tanzania. Swahili is also spoken in the rest of East Africa and beyond with over 150 million people said to fluently use the language. Other countries where it is spoken include Mozambique, Burundi, Rwanda, Somalia, Uganda, Ethiopia, Sudan and Congo (DRC).

The language which is relatively simple is highly phonetic with a rigid grammar and incorporates elements of both classical Arabic and Bantu dialects. The word Swahili itself comes from the Arabic word Sahel for ‘coast’. Perhaps the only challenge when learning Swahili comes from having to master its extensive use of prefixes, suffixes and infixes, and a class system for nouns.

In Kenya, especially the inland parts of the country, the people speak their tribal language at home, and will use Swahili as an everyday language, and English for business. But in Tanzania the language is spoken both formally and informally. This has made Tanzania and especially the Island of Zanzibar to be considered the home of Swahili language.

The Tanzanian speakers take politeness very seriously when using language which is embedded even into their greetings and their expressions unlike with the Kenyan speakers. For instance, Tanzanians are fond of using kinship terms referring to their brother or age-mates as Kaka or a stranger older than them as baba, or any child as ‘mwanangu’ my child etc.

Kenyans are more regarded as being impolite and will rarely use warm language of courtesies and expressions. It is important to consider this element especially if the target in Tanzanians.

The other difference between Swahili translator/interpreter from Tanzania and Kenya is that the Kenyan Swahili is influenced not only by other local languages but also by English which is an official language. Kenyans may translate sentences and words directly from English which is mostly brought about by inadequate Swahili vocabulary. Whereas Tanzanians are fluent in the language and will use exact words to convey the intended meaning. For instance, when requesting someone to come to you a Kenyan will often say ‘tafadhali kuja hapa’ which translates to ‘kindly come here’ but the Swahili from Tanzania will be ‘Tafadhali, njoo hapa’, which is correct.

In Tanzania, Swahili is used throughout their education system where they learn all other subjects using the language. This has helped them to not only write well in Swahili but also converse formally in Swahili. In Kenya, Swahili is only taught as an independent subject which means one needs extra dedication if you are to master the language. Kenyans have gone on to adopt words from their local languages and from English language if in a situation where they come across an uncommon words or expressions. For instance, a mobile phone is Kenya will preferable be referred to as ‘simu’ but the correct Swahili as used by Tanzanians will be ‘rununu’.

This will also mean Kenyan Swahili will have a lot of slang in it. In Kenya, a phrase like ‘naenda hivi nakam’ literally means ‘I’ve left but am coming back’ where there is a slang word like ‘nakam’ but will feel fine.
Tanzanians have their coastal-like accent when speaking Swahili whereas Kenyans are mostly going to be affected by their mother-tongue. Tanzanians will speak in a mellow Swahili after all that the language they have probably spent most of their lives using. There will be intances where Kenyans will likely pronounce words wrongly.

Tanzania speakers adhere to correct sentence construction in regard to noun – verb agreement. This is important in order to have clarity and fluency. This means ensuring that all necessary words are included in the sentence and in the right order. For instance, ‘ I would have wanted to come but I wasn’t able to’ would be said as ‘ningelitaka kufika Lakini nisingeliweza’ but a Kenyan will likely say ‘nilikuwa nataka kukuja lakini sikuweza’.

This is not only notable in day to day speech but in other areas such as song writing, drama, and even simple conversations on social media. When dealing with Tanzanian audience one has to be keen in the sentence construction compared to when dealing with Kenyans. Majority of Kenyans, will therefore, regard their neighbors as slow, especially in speech, but in the real sense is that Tanzanians are keen when using words and perhaps better in using Swahili.

Swahili has borrowed its words from other languages and especially Arabic and English. The language continues to evolve and adopt new words and especially from technology. It is not uncommon to have a new word being adopted in Kenya and a different word of the same item adopted in Tanzania. The translator has to be keen when they come across a word that is new.

When translating materials, one has to put in mind the audience who will be interacting with the materials. In information age where there is information overload, audience can easily be frustrated by a language that they can hardly identify with. Therefore, a good translator is one who understands this need. Tanzanians are likely to be frustrated by a language that does not adhere to correct usage of the language. For Kenyans, they would appreciate good and correct Swahili, but be keen that majority of them may find it awkward using Tanzanian Swahili.

As a full-service translation company Linguist Point Interpreting and Translations also provides cost effective Quote for Swahili translator/interpreter. Please send us your inquiry using our form online or simply call us now on 02085235791 for an estimated quote.

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