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The Language of Zambia

The Language of Zambia

Zambia has a great many tribes and being a geographically large nation, its people are from all over Central and Southern Africa. Perhaps because of the number of tribes represented in Zambia there is no single group of people that feels they are superior in either strength of numbers or historic tradition.

Zambia was a British protectorate until independence in 1964 and Kenneth Kaunda took the bold decision to keep English as the official language of education and the official language is still English. This move is considered by some to be one of the main contributing factors behind the cohesion and harmony of Zambian society – “One Zambia, One Nation” and Tiende Pamodzi – we go together – KK’s old rally cries – are still very much believed in today. All media and business is in English and the majority of Zambians speak it reasonably well.

Bemba is the most commonly spoken African language in Zambia. In the past it was largely confined to the Copperbelt province since the Bemba people originally came down from the Congo. More recently, with the easy movement of people throughout Zambia, the language has taken on more popular appeal and is probably the most commonly spoken language in the Capital City, Lusaka.

In the Luangwa Valley and the Eastern Province of Zambia, the language is Ch’Nyanja. This literally means “language of the lake” and originated from the shores of Lake Malawi to the East. Nyanja is still the language spoken across all of Malawi and this bond, coupled with many traditional beliefs and practices, ties the Kunda tribe of the Luangwa Valley more closely with their neighbours than with many other people living within Zambia.

Other commonly spoken languages in Zambia are Tonga, Lozi, Tumbuka, Nsenga, Lunda and Luvale.

It is always greatly appreciated when travellers from afar attempt to speak a few words in the local language. It is as true in Zambia as anywhere else in the world and usually just a couple of words in greeting will do the trick.

Nyanja is the language spoken by most of the staff at Elephant Wood most of whom are from the Kunda tribe, in fact they speak a dialect of Nyanja called Ch’kunda – here are a few useful words and phrases in case you’re ever considering a trip to the Luangwa!

English Nyanja
Hello, how are you Muli bwanji
I am fine Ndili bwino
Thank you Zikomo
Good bye Salani bwino
Food Chakudya
Water Manzi
House Nyumba
Tree Mitengo
Man Wamuna
Lady Mkazi
Child Mwana
Lion Mukango
Elephant Njobvu
Leopard Kaingo
Buffalo Njyati
Crocodile Ngwena
Snake Njoka
Hippo Mvuu
Zebra Chimbwete
I want to see a lion Ndifuna kuona mukango
Look, an elephant! Onani, njobvu!
Where are we going? Tipita kuti?