Nanga def? Wolof Words and Phrases to Know

A group of girls smiling

Across West Africa, hundreds if not thousands of different languages are spoken. Nigeria alone is home to over 250. Senegal is home to over 30 languages, with Wolof as the most widely spoken. Other languages include Mandinka, Pulaar, and Serer, as well as French (from the French colonial era). Wolof is also spoken in The Gambia, primarily in the urban areas, and Mauritania, mostly along the border with Senegal.

If you are planning to travel to Senegal, learning some key Wolof phrases will help you get around and make friends. If you plan on spending most of your time in Dakar, knowing some French and Arabic will also benefit you, as a mix of all three languages makes up the urban variant of the language called Dakar-Wolof.

  • How are you?: Nanga def (singular), Nangeen def (plural). This usually follows the standard Arabic greeting of salaam aleekum. Muslims make up 95% of Senegal’s population, and 96% in The Gambia.
    • I’m fine: Maangi fi.
  • What is your name?: Nanga tudd.
    • My name is: Maangi tudd...
  • Thank you: Jërejëf.
  • Yes: Waaw.
  • No: Déetdéyt.
  • How much?: Ñaata la? Haggling is common in Senegal and across West Africa, and sellers in markets expect that customers will work to negotiate a lower price.
    • That’s expensive: Dafa seer.
    • Lower the price: Waañi ko.
  • I'm hungry, I'm thirsty: Dama xiif, dama mar.
  • It's delicious: Neex na. If you're invited to someone's home to eat, it's important to know how to compliment them on the meal.
    • This tastes wonderful: Safna sap.
  • How do you say… in Wolof: Nunyi waxee… chi Wolof? Whether or not you already know Wolof when you go to Senegal, chances are you will think of words and phrases you don’t know how to translate. This phrase is important for any traveler.
  • Foreigner: Toubab. You may not use this word yourself, but you will hear it everywhere you go. You might not hear it as much from adults, but children are likely to shout it out when they see you.

If you want to really get into the Wolof language, try listening to Senegalese music. World-renowned musician Youssou N’dour hails from Senegal and his songs are a great introduction to mbalax, a Senegalese style of music he was key in developing. Here is one song of his called “Xale bi,” which means “the child.”

Another fun song is “Waaw” by Viviane. Listen to this one and you’ll never forget the word for “yes.”

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