Pronunciation Guide

Vowels

Vowel Nearest English
Equivalent
Wolof
Examples
a absorb banta, tapa, santa
aa far laaj, naaj, caabi
e get dem, lem, gerte
ee where seet, leel
é say bés
éé sane wéér, réér
ë bird kër, dëgër
i in, pit nit, simiis, timis
ii meet siis, lii, kii
o moment xob, romba
ó awe nób, sóf
oo door loo, soo
óó phone góór, fóót
u cook nuyu, ubi
uu moon tuuru, yuuxu

Consonants

Consonant Nearest
English Equivalent
Wolof
Examples
b boy bunta, ban
c church caabi, ceeb
d dog def, dara
f fire fas, fetel
g good dogal, duga
j job jambar, jox
k cool kaala, kumpa
l land loolu, laal
m moon meew, dem
n not nit, nax
ñ onion ñeebe, gaañu
p park pare, soopa
r rat raxas, réér
s sign siis, safara
t stamp tubaab, aate
w war waaw, rew
x (see note) * xale, xaalis
y your yaay, yuuxu

* There is no English equivalent for this sound, it is a slightly gutteral sound that is beween x and k. It may also be pronounced merely as h, especially among non-natives.

Prenasalized Consonants

Consonant

Wolof Examples

mb

mbéy, mbam

nd

ndey, ndigga

nj, ng

ngor

mp

lampa

Adopted from: http://resourcepage.gambia.dk/ftp/wollof.pdf

For prenasalized consonants slightly pronounce the initial letter while putting greater emphasis on the second letter. For example: mBUH  for the consonant mb (hint: form your lips like you are about to make the sound for m and then sound out b). The proper way is to do this through the nose but even if you have trouble nasalizing simply pronouncing it like the example above should suffice.

Finally, there’s one other nasalized consonant that is often found in some Wolof words. It’s called the velar nasal and it looks like ŋ. This letter is pronounced like the ng in the English word sing.

For more please read: Let’s start with pronunciation…

Pronunciation Tips

  • Pronounce j as in ‘jazz’ but with the tongue closer to the top front teeth.
  • Pronounce c as in ‘church‘ with the tongue closer to the top front teeth.
  • Pronounce ñ as in ‘onion‘ with the tip of the tongue just behind the front teeth.
  • Pronounce ŋ as in ‘single‘.
  • Pronounce q like a ‘k‘ pulled back into the throat.
  • Pronounce x like the Scottish ‘loch‘ with the tongue pulled back into the throat. It can also be pronounced like an ‘h‘ for those who have difficulty producing this sound.
  • Pronounce a as in ‘butter‘.
  • Pronounce à as in the British pronunciation of ‘life‘.
  • Pronounce e as in ‘bedroom‘.
  • Pronounce é as in ‘big‘.
  • Pronounce ë as in ‘bird‘.
  • Pronounce i as in ‘beetle‘.
  • Pronounce o as in ‘hot‘.
  • Pronounce ó as in the French pronunciation of ‘beau‘.
  • Pronounce u as in ‘book‘ with the lips more rounded.
This website uses several sources and a few of them use alternative orthographies and therefore have slightly different pronunciation rules. Following are some alternate pronunciation guides.

Kantorek – Gambian Wolof/British English Pronunciation Guide

a as in agency aik
ar as in arrive arba
b as in begin binda
c as in corner contarn
ch as in chicken chigne
d as in day daica
dea as in dead dealu
e as in exercise ebb
f as in far fern
fea as in feather featt
g as in go ganarre
gue as in guess gueres
h as in head heasen
i as in it ittay
j as in jail jaigne
k as in kept kehpahre
l as in lay layta
m as in marry mahre
mb m as in moo mbouba
n n as in name narcha
nd as in and ndam
o as in over olu
p as in papaya parca
r as in ramp rahash
s as in sand safara
t as in terrain tarchu
u as in uncle kudu
w as in want wahh
y as in yarn yarcarre

Lonely Planet – Africa Phrasebook

(This guide is for the phonetic pronunciation keys alongside the Wolof in some posts. For example: maangi maan•gee)

Vowels

a active
aa father
ai aisle
aw law
ay say
e net
ee bee
ey as in ‘net‘, but longer
i bit
o shot
oh mold
oo zoo
ow now
u put
uh ago

Consonants

b bedroom
ch chair
d dog
f funnel
g go
h hat
j joke
k kill
kh as the ‘ch’ in the Scottish loch
l long
m man
n nothing
ng ring
ny canyon
p petrol
r rock (trilled)
s sun
t topless
w wing
y yes

Gamble – Gambian Wolof – English Dictionary

b ball
c church (ti in French script)
d dear
f far
g gas
j joy (dy in French script)
k kind
l like
m mouse
n now
ñ Kenya
ŋ single
p pin
r right
s send
t ten
w wish
x as in Spanish. Scottish loch.
y yearn

Prenasalized: mb, nj, nc, ng, nk, nx

With the exception of f, s, and r, all consonants have long and short counterparts. Long consonants are indicated by double consonants.

e.g. dalla; matta. When pronounced slowly one hears: dal-la; mat-ta.

To an outsider a terminal b, and a terminal p are often very similar. The sound that is heard depends on the word following. Terminal c and j are also close.

dscn0717.jpg

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39 responses to “Pronunciation Guide

  1. Great blog. I love your language and I want to learn how to speak Wolof. I am from the united states and there are no affordable african language classes.I am a black man that was born in the US so u know how that story goes.
    Cool picture! How can I learn Wolof and meet someone from Senegal?

  2. I am an African-American male myself born here in the United States. Wolof is not my native language I am still learning it myself so I am pretty much in your same shoes. The best advice I can give you is to check out this blog often as I update it almost everyday. Also, a few books you might want to get your hands on are the African Phrasebook by Lonely Planet, the Wolof Dictionary & Phrasebook by Nyima Kantorek and download the Peace Corps Wolof Dictionary online. There is also a pretty neat Wolof course at http://www.wolofonline.com it costs a little bit but worth it of you are serious about learning the language. As far as meeting Senegalese I would try your local colleges and universities as many of them are here for education. You can also try cafes as many of them enjoy tea and coffee. Also I have found that a lot of them are into Reggae music so Reggae clubs and concerts are also a good place. Senegalese musicians are very popular among the World music scene so chances are some of these performers visit your city often so you might want to check out those shows too. Of course you can’t just always look at somebody and tell that they are Senegalese but there are often little clues such as body language and dress. I have noticed that many African males older than 20 prefer to wear their clothes a little tighter than many of us born here do. Of course everybody is different but Senegalese as a general rule enjoy conversation and meeting new people so you shouldn’t feel shy about approaching someone who you think might be Senegalese…just say hello, introduce yourself, ask them if they happen to be Senegalese and if so say to them “Nanga def?” (How are you?) and if they say a Wolof greeting back answer Jamm rekk. (I am fine.) But the best advice of all that I can give is to actually visit the country if you can afford it. May I ask what city you live in?

  3. Sorry for the late response but I’m not online everyday and I had 2catch up with a lot of work, research & study…sorry.
    This timeI had more time to actually look thru this blog…and it is great! I am now convinced that with patience, determination and proper application I can learn to speak Wolof. (thanx for the advice)

    I live in St.Louis, Missouri. (Oh by the way I manage a reggae band and a reggae artist from Jamaica. I have a digital recording studio and I am promoting my reggae artist.)
    I am actually planning concert venues with area colleges. I plan on taking the promotional CD tour on the road. That’ll be phenomenal if the music will take us to Senegal!
    al Hamdu lillah!!

    Ma-a-a-annnn I’m really excited so let me get to mixing down some music. I am gooing to buy those books this weekend if I can find them in a book store. I know I will find at least one at Barnes & Noble or somewhere.

    Maybe I can send u a demo of the music someday soon. I will keep in touch alot more from now on. Peace out.

  4. It so happens that I am also involved with street/club promotions here in Portland, Oregon. If you take your tour out this way let me know and I might be able to hook you up with a venue and/or help you out with promoting it…peace…jamm ak salaam.

  5. Sounds good. I’ll be busy for the next few days getting some mixxtape songs 2gether. I get music straight from Jamaica, on 45’s. I have alot and alot of vinyl. I’ll holla atchu sometime Monday or Tuesday. Peace out.

  6. Salama lekum. Na ngen def? Peace be upon you. How are you all?

    Interesting website. I am not from Senegal but from The Gambia. The Senegalese are our cousins. You know what they say, ‘every Senegalese has a relative in the Gambia and vice-versa’. There are several Senegalese in New York and other parts of The USA, they love money so you will see them selling African goods in the markets. They are very friendly, helpful and generous people so dont be shy to ask for help, even if they can’t help you with your grammer, I am sure they will be able to introduce you to someone. This is the best way of learning the language: being tought face to face by a person who actually speaks the language. Also, Gambians speak wolof as well – [the majority, even if they do not belong to the wolof tribe]. The Senegalese and Gambian ways of speaking wolof are slightly different, but they both can understand each other. The Gambian wolof is influenced by the Mandinka language [the majority tribe in The Gambia] – therefore, if you want to speak pure wolof, I would advise getting a Senegalese wolof teacher. The only advantage a Gambian Wolof speaker has over a Senegalese wolof speaker as far as you are concerned is: English. However, many senegalese are working hard to improve their English [their official language is French].

    Jeeri ngen jef
    Thank you all/thank you [plural]

  7. Assalmualaikum,

    Na nga def? Maangi fe. I have spent a short time in Senegal and will be back soon, so I am trying to learn more language before I return.

    Can you help me with pronunciation? I am trying to remember how you pronounce “ci,” as in “ci biir” or “ci kanam.” Is it rponounced like “chi” or is it lie “see?”

    Many thanks! Also, fyi, I saw that you wrote about needing a Yellow Fever certificate to get through the airport. I don’t have one, but it hasn’t stopped me from getting through the airport the three times I have been.

    Jam ak jam,
    Kathy

  8. yes about the yellow fever card, i was not asked for it when i arrived this time. the other times i came, 2005 and 2006 they asked for it. so perhaps it is no longer a requirement.

    as far as pronunciation ci or ce is usually pronounced like chee depending on the orthography used. for your examples however it is definitely pronounced like chee meaning at or in. however my friend who is a native speaker tells me that it can be pronounced like see depending on the dialect of the speaker but personally i have only heard it pronounced chee.

    i am in senegal now so i wont be updating the site very often if at all until i return to the states which will, god willing, be at the begining of august.

    thanks for the feedback…jerejef. jamm ak salaam.

  9. Jerejef. I am grateful for the pronunciation. I had been saying it as chee, but then had a fleeting moment of thinking I was pronuncing it wrong. How long are you in Senegal until? I am going back in five weeks and will be traveling all over during the month. Will be near Theis, Gambia, N’Bem, and in the Northeast corners, as well. Going all over. Hoping to avoid Malaria this trip. I am planning to be there all winter also. Inshallah, we should meet if there in the same timeframes!

    Got any good tips on fares from JFK?

    Jam ak jam,
    Be beneen yon,
    K

  10. I recently recieved several phone calls from a strange number to me. They eventually sent me a text message in a language I don’t understand…I’m from Kentucky. I did some searching and found out it is Wolof but that’s as far as I have gotten. Is there anyone who can translate it for me or point me in a direction that can?

  11. Salam maalekum! Na ngeen def?.

    Im from Orense, a little town in the north of Spain.
    Im learning wolof from three years ago.
    I am a lucky man: my neighbours are “waa senegal”, senegalaise people. I speak with them every day. That makes me improve my speech. My wolof is better than my english!!.
    I buy all the books that I found about the subject.
    I am also writing a blog about wolof in galician language, home language here.
    Thanks for your help.

  12. I am an Americian that has recently married and Senegalese man. He has tried to teach me a few words but, I slow to learn them. If you could please tell me where I could learn the basic on line. I would like to surprise with the basic I love you, I can say jerejef, Na ngneen def. I would very much like to make him happy for his mom speaks no english.

    Thank you.

  13. Salaam alekuum…

    And Greetings…it’s nice to find folks such as myself, trying to learn Wolof. I was checking the blog notes and the one from “C” answering a request for how to say I love you…is not correct. Nama nala or as she wrote”nob nala” actually means I miss you. I love you would be better translated with bugg nala, which can also mean I like you…bugg ( pronounce bugga) means both like and love.

    I’ve been gradually learning wolof over 8 years, but I feel I’ve been very lax and lazy as my husband who is Wolof, speaks english fluently and we end up in english all the time! I want to get serious now as we want to be in Senegal most of the time soon.

    I have just today found that there is a class being offered at UC Berkeley, if anyone is in northern CA bayarea this fall 12:00- 2pm Tu and Th….

    Ndank, ndank…moi japp dom golo ci nyaye…
    (slowly, slowly, one catches a baby monkey in the forest…)

    By the way…we are Baye Fall…my husband will have a web site up hopefully by the end of August 2009…www.maajaal.com…check for it.

    • Salaam Mrs. Sow Yaay Fall: Nob naa la is an appropriate way to say I love you and is different than nam naa la (I miss you), but as I have understood, Buegg naa la is a more endearing way to express your love.

      I have learned some fun ways to express your love that you can surprise your husband with sometime. Email me and I will dig them out of my notes. 🙂

      Where is your husband from?

      • please! do send the fun ways to express my love so I can surprise him & what does booku legaey mean I’m probably no saying it correctly?What do you mean when you say Buegg naa la is a more endearing way to express your love?

  14. My husband is from senegal and i am from puerto rico. I have found it very difficult to learn his language because I autimatically fall back on my spanish. I was wondering how effective is the online course for learning the language.

    Desperate in Rhode Island

  15. Hello one and all! My name is Victor Pringle. I am African-American and I eagerly want to learn Wolof. I am researching my family’s ancestry and I believe that we were originally from the Senegal region. If anyone can help me with some information so that I can learn Wolof I would greatly appreciate it. Asante!

  16. Victor, Your desire to learn the Wolof language is for practical reasons and very admirable. I don’t know how whether you live in New York or not, but there are loads of Senegalese and Gambians in New York. There is even a Senegalese radio programme that broadcast on WPAT 930AM everyday. I usually listen to it on the internet here in London at 2am London time during the weekends. For the weekday programmes, I podcast them from xalima.com, because I work during weekdays. I have also recently written my family’s genealogy that has taken me many years. The Senegalese documents would be in French.

  17. salamu alaikum! ^^

    hello~! My name is juran Yun. I’m south korean. I well not speak and write in english. So.. I am sorry..ㅜ ㅜ
    My major is west africa.I am learning Hausa langues. African languages very very interesting! ^^
    And I love David diop and Birago diop.
    Do you know that ” Africa” and ” an eagle” poems of David diop? When I firste read poems of africa writer, I called for my friends and I said ” I love you” .. because..after I read next sentence I regreat my life..

    “They(white people) Know everything but they don’t know love… ”

    I am asian but I love africa
    this month, I have to presentation for wolof language.
    but i don’ know wolof language.
    I want to introduce my classmate wolof language , senegal writer and I learne wolof language. So , Can I ask you? ..

    I need wolof language information..
    all of that wolof language..

    Could you send me information for wolof language, please?

    I hope to presentation for wolof language.
    ^^
    I will waite for your answer.

    Have a nice day!

  18. To Mrs. Sow: Nob naa la is an appropriate way to say I love you and is different than nam naa la (I miss you), but as I have understood, Buegg naa la is a more endearing way to express your love. will check out your site!

  19. Hi is anyone able to translate or rather give a short summary of the song “Amor” by Viviane Ndour and Philip Monteiro. My Senegalese Boyfriend sent it to me and has given me the task to translate it…………………I need help!!! I don’t know any wolof etc..

    • These are the lyrics…can anyone translate?

      Lola, have you tried firicat.com?

      Phillippe :

      Kuando ki mi odjabù
      Um cria conxèba bo melhor
      Mestaba nes momento
      Mestaba d’um alguem
      Pam podè fala ku el
      Pam podè fika ku el
      E ki ‘sta junto d’um alguem, d’um alguem
      E ki pa parti nha zanssi ku el
      me pergunta coisas ki un kria saber
      Ma bo ka respondè
      Um pensava ma bo ka ‘stava interessada
      Um friù dentro mi talvez bo ka cria di mi
      Um bem réaliza ma bo
      Bo ka sabe fala,bo ka ta entendè criolù

      Refrain Philippe :

      Ma bo ten ki sabe
      Ma amor ka ta frontera
      Kuando ki nù ‘sta apaixonado
      Bo ta fina sempre pa comprende
      Ma bo ten ki sabe

      Refrain Viviane :

      Setlou na né
      Mbirou begël fimou tcheupé
      Si kalama boumou meuneu donn
      Dolé dji mou andal
      Koumou dal ngueu yakhou
      Bou bakh ouuuuuuu

      Viviane :

      Dank Dank, ya ngui mey yaar
      Sou dé, sou dé, djeu li na leu
      Guiss na sakhar si guéneu si sey bët
      Man daal, soumeu sagnone, soumeu sagnone,
      Adouna bi, béneu kalama ley donn
      Mbegël sétoul boppeu, sétoul mélokane,
      Beugueu na leu, beugueu na leu

      Refrain Viviane :

      Setlou na né
      Mbirou begël fimou tcheupé
      Si kalama boumou meuneu donn
      Dolé dji mou andal
      Koumou dal ngueu yakhou

      Refrain Philippe :

      Ma bo ten ki sabe
      Ma amor ka ta frontera
      Kuando ki nù ‘sta apaixonado
      Bo ta fina sempre pa comprende…

      Philippe :

      Oh baybe, Um ténè volta di bo
      Oh baybe, ami um ta xinti mbegël ké amor
      Man nope na leu ké Um gosta di bo

      Viviane :

      So togué di ngueu kham yow sama yaye
      Té di na leu beugueu bouuuu bakh

      Refrain de Viviane après de Philippe…

      Suite de la zik après :

      Si bo sinta (bo ten ki sabe)
      Um ta monstrabu (kuando ki nù ‘sta apaixonado)
      Oh nha mae (bo ta fina semprè pa comprende)

  20. My husband is from senegal..and he and i just had a amazing conversation moments ago before i discovered this site…he basically told me that the best way I will ever feel confident and comfortable in speaking his native language will be to be taught directly from him or someone who speaks wolof. Confidence is everything will learning anything new. i pray to arise one day and the wolof language to all just flow from my tongue….good day peeps and much love and peace to ALL!! 🙂

  21. Pingback: Basic Wolof Phrases | Janga Wolof·

  22. i am interested in the langauge wolof i have known someone over at senegal want to understand what she is saying to me and want to talk to her too is there on line voice talking lessons i can learn im from philadelphia ,,please let me know lisa

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