Saturday, 9 October 2010

5 things you need to know how to say in Chewa (the official language of Malawi)!

Malawi is a country made up of many different tribes, all of whom have slightly different languages. The differences aree most pronounced as you travel from North to South - as you go from Nkonde in the very north, to Tumbuka in the North, to Tonga on the lake shore around Nkhata Bay and Sambani Lodge, and then Chewa as you go further South.

The good news is, the national language of Malawi is Chewa, and it is taught in all schools from an early age - as is English from secondary school. Bearing that in mind, you can no doubt get away with speaking English, but if you want to really impress, here are my top 5 things you need to know how to say in Chewa!

1. Greetings

The greeting is the cornerstone of Malawi culture - nothing happens without a long drawn out greeting ritual - so it's important you can play your part. Perhaps you can find a willing volunteer to enter into a roleplay with you.

Moni (mo-ni): Hello?

Muli bwanji: How are you?
  - Ndiri bwino, kaya inu (nee-li bwi-noo, kaya ee-noo): I am fine, and you?
Ndiri bwanji: I am fine
  - Zikomo (zee-ko-mo): Thank you
Zikomo: Thank you

There are different versions of this greeting across malawi, but you can instigate this, or respond as appropriate. Often you may have to repeat this several times - to the delight of your hosts or nearby Malawians!

2. I'm not from around here...

Mumalankhula chizungu: Do you speak English?
Sindimalankhula chichewa: I don't speak Chewa
Sindimvetsa: I don't understand

3. Medical care

Mundithandize!: Help me! 
Ndikudwala: I am ill
Chipatala: Hospital
Ndikufuna dokotala: I need a doctor

4. How much...?

Ndi ndalama zingati ichi?: How much is this?

5. Goodbye

Yendani Bwino (yen-dar-ni bwee-no): Travel safely

So those are my top 5 things to know how to say in Chewa (the official language of Malawi). For more phrases, and the conjugation of some common verbs, why not download the
Malawi phrasebook - a snip at £3, just pay with PayPal!

What are you top phrases a traveller would need in Malawi? Just use the comments section below, I'd love to hear your thoughts!


  1. I've never heard "monile" before. I have heard "moni" as a general "hi" greeting.

    And if you were to say "ndili bwanji", you would be saying "how am i". Never heard that either.

    If you really want to greet someone, you should ask "Muli bwanji?" to which one should reply "Ndili bwino." Bwino means good. "Kaya inu?" is, literally, "I don't know about you?" You could also say "Nanga inu?"

  2. You have a very good point Kim, I've realised I mixed up some Nkonde with that sequence of greetings - updated with the latest info, and thanks very much for your feedback!

  3. i love Malawian Native Language, Chichewa, it is simple for English people to learn since it goes together with English venaculars and pronounciations

  4. It's a great language, I do get confused between Chichewa, Chitonga, Chitumbuka and Chingonde though!