Introductory Shona Language
lesson 1 lesson 2 lesson 3 lesson 4
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Lesson 1: Pronunciation Greetings Introductions
This is a very basic introduction: if you are in Zimbabwe the best bet is a little booklet called 'Fambai Zvakanaka muZimbabwe', available for about the equivalent of 50p in most bookshops. Shona, or chiShona, is spoken as a first language by over 9 million people in Zimbabwe (the other main language is Ndebele.) Although there are various regional dialects, it is one language, and most people have no problem understanding other dialects. 'My' version is a bit of a mish-mash, including textbook grammar, Harare and Guruve words, and some modern 'slang'. It works for me!


This is pretty phonetic and straightforward. The only funny sounds are explained in the table below.

Spelling Pronunciation
-dy- said like '-jig-' or '-jg-' so 'kudya' is pronounced 'kujga'
-ty- '-chik-' or -'chk-' so 'mbatya' is pronounced 'mbachka'
-mbw- sometimes sounds like '-mbugg-' so 'imbwa' is pronounced 'imbugga'
-zv- sort of like 'je' in French, but a bit whistly
-sv- a whistly version of 'sh'
-sw- like '-skw-' so 'ndaswera' is pronounced 'ndaskwera'
-vh- like v in'velvet'
-v- sort of in between an English v and w

In general Shona is spoken at the front of the mouth - you'll see what I mean!


These are very important in Shona society, and not surprisingly, there are lots, but don't worry: just choose one or two 'general' ones to start with. Note that most greetings take the form of a set exchange of statements, but nowadays these are often abbreviated or mixed up, so don't get too tied up.

General Greetings:
Used to those you already know quite well, or people you meet in passing, eg at a shop, or waving from a truck. There are lots of combinations. The letters in brackets are added to show respect: use them until you know someone, unless they're a child: a bit like French 'vous'.

First speaker says... Second speaker replies... Meaning
Kanjan/ kanjani Kanjan/ kanjani Hi there
(M)uri rayiti? OR (M)uribho here? Ndiri rayiti OR ndiripo How are you? I'm fine.
Mhoro(i) Mhoro(i) Hi/how are you?

Polite Greetings:
These can make a good impression if used in a formal meeting, especially with a 'senior' person, such as an elder, or someone whose home you are visiting.

First speaker says... Second speaker replies... Meaning
Tikukwazisei Kwaziwai May I greet you/ greetings

Time greetings:
These are confusing at first, but widely used in both polite and less formal situations. They take the form of two or three 'steps' of which many are often skipped, as you'll learn.
In the morning, up till about 11am, you say:

First Speaker... Second Speaker... Meaning
Step 1. Mangwanani Mangwanani, Marara sei? Good morning/ good morning, did you sleep well?
Step 2. Ndarara (kana) Mararawo Ndarara I slept well if you did/ I did sleep well

From about 11am till about 4pm (when the sun begins to cool off), you say:

First Speaker... Second Speaker... Meaning
Step 1. Masikati Masikati, maswera sei? Afternoon/afternoon, had a good day?
Step 2. Ndaswera maswerawo Ndaswera. I did if you did/ I did.

In the evening, you say the same as above, but simply replace 'masikati' meaning 'good afternoon' with 'manheru' meaning 'good evening'. Before going to bed, you can say 'Tonana mangwana' - 'we'll see each other tomorrow'. A very important action which accompanies this is hand-clapping: flat hands for men, cupped hands for women. Obviously if your hands are full don't bother, but if your mouth is full, you are out of earshot, or in a hurry, a few quick claps can show what you mean - they also mean thankyou. Finally, shaking (right) hands is very important, though its more a grasp than a shake. If your hands are full, profer your forearm. In the rural areas many people still put their left hand under their right elbow when shaking hands - another way of showing respect. Also, it's polite to receive any gift, however small, with both hands together.


Pretty simple, choose one variation to start with.
Phrase... Meaning
(M)unonzani? OR Zita renyu ndiani? What's your name?
Ndinonzi... OR Zita rangu i..... My name is.....
Ndiani? Who is it?
Ndini.... I am...

Can be accompanied by clapping and waving.

Phrase... Meaning
Fambai zvakanaka Go well (said by person staying)
Sarai zvakanaka Stay well (said by person going)

These are very important. There isn't really a word for 'please', as its contained in the politeness of the request, but there are lots of ways of saying thanks, again with claps.

Phrase... Meaning
Tatenda OR Tinotenda OR Ndatenda Thankyou ( a general word)
Mazviita OR Maita basa OR Maita zvenyu Thankyou (for doing a task)

Finally, a very useful word is 'shamwari' which means 'friend, mate, pal'. You can add it to just about all of the words and phrases above, where it would seem right in English. Try it and see!

Introductory Shona Language

© Cameron Smith 2000 - feel free to copy as long as its not for profit

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