10 important phrases to know before going to Ghana, Africa

Learning a foreign language can be difficult. And, for people traveling to Ghana for only a short amount of time, trying to become fluent in Twi, the principal native language of the country, may be a bit farfetched. However, learning some important phrases before you go can help prepare you for a more comfortable experience.

Eti sen?
How are you?

In Ghana, the people are extremely friendly, and everyone, even complete strangers, are going to ask you this. Greetings are very important in Ghana, and if you don’t want to be seen as impolite then be sure to learn this phrase and use it as much as possible.Eh ya.
I’m fine.

When someone asks you how you’re doing, this should always be your response, even if you’re having a terrible day. If Ghana, people don’t share these troubles in response to someone greeting them, so no matter how you are really feeling, just say you’re fine.

Ye fro wo sen.
What is your name?

When you meet new people, make sure to ask them their name, even if just to be polite. It is more than likely that you will also be asked what your name is many times throughout your stay in Ghana, so knowing this expression ahead of time can be helpful.

Maa chi/Maa ha/Maa jo.
Good morning/Good afternoon/Good evening.

Politeness goes a long way, and when locals see that you’re making an effort to learn their language and greet them, they’ll respect you more and not look at you as a lost and confused foreigner. It’ll also help you immerse yourself in the culture that much more.


This is an expression you will hear a lot. And, when I say a lot, I mean at least 20 to 100 times each day. While it may sound offensive, as in many Western cultures shouting “foreigner!” at someone is taken rudely, in Ghana they mean it in a friendly manner as a way to say hello and try to get to know you. Even if you don’t want to respond to the shouts of the locals, it is nice to know what exactly it is they are yelling at you.

Wo bay jay sen?
What is the fare?

As a visitor to the country, you most likely aren’t going to have a car (and once you see the crazy drivers, traffic congestion, and pothole filled roads in Ghana, you won’t want one). Therefore, taxis and tro-tros (kind of like a packed out mini-van) are going to be your transportation options. If you are traveling locally by tro-tro, you can almost bet that the fare will be under 1 Ghana Cedi. However, if you are taking a taxi it can be helpful to know how to ask how much the trip will cost.

Te so.
Reduce it.

On that some note, as an “oburoni” you will undoubtedly be charged the foreigner price, sometimes as much as four times what the locals pay. Don’t feel bad about bartering the price down. And, once the taxi drivers hear you speaking the local language, they will be more likely to give you a fair price.

Wa ye sen?
This is how much?

Just like with taxi fare, be prepared for hawkers and market salespeople to charge you a higher price than the locals. When shopping in the markets or buying food and other items on the street, politely ask how much something is. Then, go back to the prior phrase of “Te so”, and ask them to reduce it.

Koo se.

As a foreigner, it is inevitable that you will make mistakes along the way. If you find you have made a cultural faux pas, just be polite and apologize.

Me daa si.
Thank you.

The people of Ghana are very friendly and will often help you figure out your way around the area and local customs. Whether someone points you in the direction of the nearest public toilet, serves you a delicious meal, shows you the local beaches, or takes you on a guided tour of one of the historical castles, show gratitude and thank them.

Word for the Travel Wise (05/27/06)

Yesterday, a friend of mine was schooling me to a small chain of luxury inns located in Brooklyn, Cape May, and Washington D.C. The lucky gal went ahead and booked a much needed night’s stay at the Brooklyn mansion which looks quite lovely and like a real treat from their website. The Akwaaba Mansion in NY has been around since 1995 where owners — Monique and Glen — restored the 1860’s mansion to its original granduer so that it could operate as an upscale bed-and-breakfast. How sweet of them! Be it one night or two or whether you’re coming from afar or nearby like my friend, Akwaaba seems like the perfect home away from home with added luxury.

Today’s word is a Twi word used in Ghana:

akwaaba – welcome

I’m really uncertain about akwaaba being of Twi origin, but Twi is one of the more common of tongue from Ghana, so I went ahead and said it. (Gulp!) Please feel free to correct me on this one if needed. Their website said the name was West African from Ghana meaning welcome which made me think to make it the word of the day considering I haven’t touched this country in over two months.

Pronounced ‘chwee,’ the language is spoken by some 7 million people concentrated in southern Ghana and is a dialect of the Akan language which belongs to the Kwa language family. Wikipedia is a good place to start for the background info. Unfortunately there aren’t many Twi resources on the web so I encourage you all to make some friends from Ghana, take a trip or exercise some of these useful books and CD’s found on Amazon. You could also try My Language Exchange, but the chances of there being a fully Twi speaking person wanting to swap your language knowledge for yours doesn’t seem too bright. Sorry, but worry not. I still have my list and more words to follow.

Past Twi words: akwantuo