The official language of Niger is French, although relatively few people speak it outside of Niamey, and even then, don’t anticipate a high-level discussion with market merchants. Djerma (spoken mostly in Niamey and the neighboring Tillaberi and Dosso areas), Hausa, Fulfulde, and Tamashek (spoken by Tuaregs in the north), and Kanuri are among the native languages (spoken by Beri Beri). Outside of the American Cultural Center and a few large hotels in Niamey, English is useless. English-speakers may be found in border towns near the Nigerian border, such as Birni N Konni and Maradi. These individuals are generally from Nigeria’s south and are looking for anything from you. Regardless matter how nice they are, always listen to a professional guide over anybody who speaks some English.
You will acquire respect in an instant if you master around 20 phrases in the local tongue. Simply greeting people in their own language can make your vacation there go much more smoothly than you could have imagined.
The following are the most important Zarma/Djerma phrases:
- Fofo: hello
- Mate ni go? (mah-tay nee go?): How are you?
- Sah-mai (sawm-eye): Fine
- Mano…? Where is…?
- Ai ga ba… (Eye gah bah): I want…
- Wo-nae: That one
- Toe: OK.
- Ai (eye) MAH fah-ham: I don’t understand.
- Ka-LA-tone-tone: Goodbye
The following are the most important Hausa phrases:
- Sannu: Hello
- Me sunanka : What is your name?
- Kana LA-hiya: How are you?
- LA-hiya LO: It’s all good.
- Na GO-day: Thank you
- Sai ANjima: Goodbye
- Na GO-day, Na KO-shi: Thank you, I am full. (Polite response when offered food you are afraid to eat)
Some Arabic terms are also used frequently:
- salam-u-laikum, which loosely translates as “peace be with you,” is said in Niger while entering a home or greeting someone.
- al hamdallaye, which means to a Nigerien “Bless it, it’s done.” It may also be interpreted as “no, thank you.” The latter can also save you from having to taste potentially contaminated food or from dining at someone else’s house till your stomach bursts.
- In-shah-allah, This translates as “God willing.” For example, “In-shah-allah, I’ll come to see your family.”