Easy Xhosa: Saying “Hello”


Xhosa is one of Cape Town’s major languages. It’s full of clicks, making it seem like a linguistic Everest to those who want to learn it. (More fearsome facts: it has 17 noun cases, and is “tonal” like Chinese, meaning the same words take on different meanings, according to how they’re “sung.”)

But basic Xhosa’s quite easy, and locals love it when you show interest in their mother tongue (as they do everywhere, in my experience).

So here’s a quick, click-free Xhosa lesson: how to say “hello.” What you say depends on the number of people you are addressing.

Say “Molo” (MOH-loh) to greet one person. Say “Molweni” (mole-WAY-nee) to greet two or more people.

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Your new friends will say “Molo” back. Then they’ll say – “Unjani?” (oon-JAH-nee – “How are you?”)

Your reply: “Ndiphilile, nkosi” (in-dee-pee-LEE-lay, in-KOH-see – “I’m fine, thanks.”)

Then you say EITHER “Unjani wena” (oon-JAH-nee WAY-nah – “How are you?” for one person) OR “Ninjani wena” (nin-JAH-nee WAY-nah – “How are you?” for two or more people).

Now you’ve got it! Easy, no?

Xhosa Greeting Cheat Sheet

Molo MOH-loh – Hello! (addressing one person)
Molweni mole-WAY-nee – Hello! (addressing two or more people)
Unjanioon-JAH-nee – How are you? (one person)
Ninjani nin-JAH-nee – How are you? (two or more people)
Ndiphilile in-dee-pee-LEE-lay – I’m fine!
Nkosi in-KOH-see – Thanks!