1. Forum
  2. >
  3. Topic: Swahili
  4. >
  5. How to pronounce the letter o?


How to pronounce the letter o?

I recently recieved the book simplified swahili by Peter M. Wilson and in the first section on pronouncation it says that the letter O is pronounced as in the english word OFF which would be an ah sound. He states the the O sound is the most mispronounced sound in the swahili language and that it is never long like in the words go or do. I tried finding where I could listen to words with the O sound in them online like would be in Jambo and Habari Yako.

My question is about how to pronounce these words. Are they pronounced with the english o sound or are they pronounced more like Jamba and habari yaka?

Has the language changed since the book was written in 1970? Maybe that would explain the difference. This book was highly recommended by someone who learned swahili and has been living in Kenya for the last 20 years.

November 22, 2017



The pronunciation has not changed, probably hasn't changed for a very long time. These are some of the words I used on the audio below:

-Poa -Mambo -Hamjambo -Wewe hatujambo -Wao hawajambo -Hujambo. -Mimi sijambo. and so forth.

Listen to lesson 3 and 4 of greetings here: https://www.kingozi-chronicles.com/Chapters/Greetings/Greetings.html#greet

That is a great book btw.


Mambo! As a child I was fluent, though years of non practice and laziness mean that though I can happily understand swahili, replying back in full sentences is a struggle. Anyway I assume the author means the O sound in "off" as the UK pronunciation of "off". Without generalising too much, across the pond, the O sound like "ah" isn't correct when speaking swahili. the O sound should be quite short and full in the mouth when said.

And the language hasn't changed :)

Oh and a tip, my mum always liked to say "swahili is a simple language, everything is said as it is written, there are no frills or funny accents, just read!"

Bahati njema!


This is the problem with describing the pronunciation of sounds of another language by comparing them to English because English doesn't have a uniform pronunciation. It's not like the American pronunciation of "off" at all (which is more like "aa" in Swahili), but more like the pronunciation in most British accents, or like my Australian accent.

Using the International Phonetic Alphabet, the sound is [ɔ], which is lacking in a lot of varieties of American English (especially if you pronounce "cot" and "caught" the same way).

Have a listen to how it's pronounced here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IUjpXWPaWE0

Learn Swahili in just 5 minutes a day. For free.