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All photos by author.

Try these phrases on your Nigerian friends to gain quicker access into their world.

I’ll admit. Whenever a foreigner spews a few words of Yòrubá to me, regardless of delivery quality, I instantly warm up, throwing them a cheesy grin of approval. This gesture shows they’ve made an effort to learn my tribal tongue, one of 521 estimated Nigerian languages they could have chosen from.

If they open up with Pidgin English instead, I instantly perk up. Speaking Pidgin transforms them from visiting foreigner into one of hundreds of well integrated expatriates in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital. There’s a certain intimacy that this form of broken English emits; a down-to-earth, survivalist approach to everyday living and hustling in Africa’s most populous nation.

Pidgin English is extremely popular in most parts of Africa, particularly West Africa, and has been accepted as the de-facto language of blue collar trade and merchants. Pidgin remains the “great” equalizer – a way of communicating on a base level that cuts through bullshit.

Photo by author.

With roughly 250 tribes speaking 521 languages and dialects, English is the country’s official business language.

For citizens without easy access to higher education and white collar jobs, picking up a few words of English and mixing it with elements of their native tongues has been the default way of communicating across tribal cultures.

Variations of Pidgin English can be found all over the world, from the Caribbean to China, and each comes with its own library of everyday words.

As you travel across West Africa, the style of Pidgin spoken becomes more familiar, but still differs based on local language elements infused into it.

Even if you don’t find yourself traveling to Nigeria in the distant future, try one of these phrases on one of your Nigerian friends, and fully bask in their glowing response.

Quick Reference

Listen to how the Pidgin English phrases below sound – http://matadornetwork.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/NigerianPidgin.mp3

How Bodi? / How You Dey? – How are you doing today?

How Far? – Hey, Hi

Wetin? – What?

Photo by author.

I no no – I don’t know

I no sabi – I don’t understand

I dey fine – I’m fine. I’m doing well.

Wetin dey happen? – What’s going on? What’s happening?

Wahala – Problem/Trouble. Example – Why you dey give me wahala? Which means why are you giving me so many problems?

Comot! – Get out of here!

Comot for road – Make way

Dem send you? – Have you been sent to torment me?

Gi mi – Give it to me.

K-leg – Questionable.  Example – Your story get k-leg! Which means your story or gist sounds suspect or exaggerated.

I Wan Chop – I want to eat

Come chop – Come and eat

Abeg – Please, but usually not a repentant plea. Example – Abeg! No waste my time!; Which means Please! Don’t waste my time!

Vex – Upset. Example – Make you no vex me! ; Which means “Don’t upset me!”

I no gree – I don’t agree, I disagree

Abi? – Isn’t it?

Na so? – Is that so?

Wayo – Trickery. Example – That man be wayo; which means “that man is a fraud!”

Area boys -Street-smart young men that loiter around neighborhoods.

Butta my bread – Answered prayers. Example – “God don butta my bread” which means God has answered my prayers

Go slow – Traffic jam

I go land you slap – I will slap you!

Listen well well – Pay attention

Resources

For a complete library of Nigerian Pidgin English, check out the links below:

Language Learning


 

About The Author

Lola (Akinmade) Åkerström

Lola (Akinmade) Åkerström is a MatadorU faculty member and Network contributor. Her work has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, Vogue, BBC, Fodors.com, and many more. Follow her photoblog at Sweden.se.

  • Uzo

    Lola, how you dey? Just wan tell you say try well well for this one:)

    • Lola Akinmade

      Thank you o!

  • http://www.matadornetwork.com Julie

    Oh my God, I LOVE this. And the photos are, as usual, exceptionalz1 Sharing this everywhere!

    • Lola Akinmade

      Haha. Thanks Julie!

  • http://www.uncorneredmarket.com Audrey

    This is great. But, you should add an audio track/podcast for this post! Would be awesome to hear you say the phrases and hear a full conversation in Nigerian Pidgen English.

    • Lola Akinmade

      Audrey – That’s a fantastic idea! Let me see if I can record some of the phrases…

      • http://www.uncorneredmarket.com Audrey

        Love this!! Thanks so much for adding an audio track – it’s awesome to hear your voice and to hear the intonations and pace. I would have sounded like an idiot if I had said some of the phrases without hearing your example. Hope this is part of a series!

  • Lola Akinmade

    Hey all, the post has been updated with an audio track of the phrases!

  • Uzo

    Nice!

  • http://matadornights.com Kate

    Hey! That’s great! Is that you in the audio?

    • Lola Akinmade

      Yes, that’s me :)

  • http://girlunstoppable.com Ekua

    Awesome! And that’s an amazing pic of the woman carrying pig’s feet on her head. Ghanaians also add “o” to the end of a lot of sentences :)

    • Diane

      Ekua – Wetin de woman carry for head no bi Pig feet, na cow leg.

  • http://matadortrips.com/ Hal Amen

    Wow, so cool! Thanks so much, Lola.

  • Kay

    Love it!

  • http://miller-david.com david miller

    love this post so much lola, yes! great to read and hear your voice.

  • http://matadortravel.com/travel-community/sejalsaraiya Sej

    Lola, this is SUPER COOL! Thanks for sharing!

  • Teewa

    Lola, u do well o….(as in “good job”).

  • http://www.nehasweb.com neha

    Love this Lola! Also was so great to hear your voice! How about now now? Is it used much in Nigeria?

  • Bose

    “Lola you try no be small thing for person wey don tey for yonder, you still dey flow well well for pidgin”

    Great job girl!!!

    • http://www.lolaakinmade.com Lola

      Haha, thank you all o!

  • http://www.lolaakinmade.com Lola

    Ekua – Yes! We definitely add “o” too at the end of sentences for extra emphasis. Example – Thank you o!

  • http://www.lolaakinmade.com Lola

    Neha – Absolutely. We also use “now now” which means “immediately”. For example – Come here now now! Which means “come here immediately!”

  • Christine

    Love hearing your voice! That is one that I miss about getting to know people in the online world. The voice rounds out a person in a way nothing else can. Thanks for adding the audio!

    • http://www.lolaakinmade.com Lola

      Christine – Thanks! Hearing how we sound certainly transforms us from glittery eyed avatars behind Twitter and email accounts to actually living beings :)

  • Jordan

    wow, this is so interesting! There is a Nigerian man in my French class (in France) and while his first language is English, it’s not always easy to understand him. He speaks a very different kind of English. I can’t wait to surprise him with some of these phrases!

  • http://matadortravel.com/travel-community/simonemarie Simone

    This is my favorite! — Make you no vex me! ; Which means “Don’t upset me!”

    It’s really interesting to see that there are similarities between pidgin english and african-american street language — the way words kind of get swallowed, combined, and slid over. Really does, as you say, cut through the bullshit. Thanks so much for this!

    • m

      please which one is african american street language its called ebonics! abeg educate yourself

  • http://www.lolaakinmade.com Lola

    @Jordan – Thanks! I’d be curious to hear your classmate’s reaction when you try a few of these on him

  • http://www.lolaakinmade.com Lola

    @Simone – Glad you liked it :) There’s a certain urgency to the way it sounds as well

  • http://www.alexisgrant.wordpress.com Alexis Grant

    This is great! I’ve spent some time in Cameroon, and I could picture my friends there saying these phrases! Thanks for bringing it all back.

  • http://shantiwallah.blogspot.com Marie

    Love it! Love it! Love it!

  • Yomi

    Thanks Lola,
    I just found this site. Am preparing to give a pidgin English lesson to a group of Expatriates in my company. This is really nice. I will let you know how it went.

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  • http://submitportal.com Georgina Hertz

    This posting is precious, I seriously appreciated it, I’m going to be back for much more!

  • http://twitter.com/yizzi25 Yasser

    Im sooo obsessed with Nigerian Pidgin english.
    thank you so much for sharing that.
    I LOVE IT!!

  • Eveleen oduor

    Have always wanted to learn Nigerian Pidgin english… l need more lessons please thanks for sharing.

    • Myk

      Just post your questions here and I’ll give the answer. Shaking nor dey(No stress)

  • Siku

    Please I need more of this. Can you add to this please? I already have the ones you listed on flash cards. I want to learn to keep up with my new Nigerian family.

  • james

    na wetin dey shele hier

  • Laizabeth

    This is amazing Lola! I love it… I have a Nigerian boyfriend and friends and I always love listening to what they are saying but I can’t understand a bit. Lol… thanks for this! Add some more please…

  • Hlogi Mohlala

    Thank you for this wonderful site, your pidgin phrases have helped me a lot since i am dating a Naija man,i can now hear a lot of what he says to his friends,no more being gossiped about!!and atleast now  i can join in their conversations thanx a lot

  • Tinag981

    My fiance is nigerian. I love to hear them speak pidgin and I have learned alot. I hope you continue to post. I will be travelling to Nigeria soon so I want to learn more!

  • Kaletamusic

    i like am well well o……..make una post boku pidgin words for here o.

  • http://twitter.com/xlininkyx Lindsey

    Love this

  • Tarek

    My mother is from Nigeria, so she speaks Pidgin English. She taught me a lot, but your site gave me phrases that I didn’t know yet, so thank you very much! I appreciate it!

  • Annemariebaird

    So glad i found this site! i fell in love with pidgin and want to learn it>

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Annemarie-Baird/1519512230 Annemarie Baird

    Im so glad I found this site!  I fell in love with pidgin and I am learning to speak and write it. Any assistance is most welcome>

    • Waynecrawford45

      al my girl friend don comot live me, help me beg an mak she come back i dey feel an well well

  • Ndeshi

    My fiance speaks pidgin and i want to learn how to speak pidgin too. If anyone has materials or books to share, please do. I am not in Nigeria though :-(

  • Tas

    Love Pidging English! I speak small small, I’m living in Italy and meet a lot of Nigerians and it’s too much fun speaking Pidgin w/them.
    Thanks for the post!

  • Louma04

    Where can I actually learn nigerian and nigerian pidgin? are there any online schools?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=669175126 Sandra Jeurninck

    Thank you Lola for sharing

  • Okeke Miracle Chinonso

    You try no be small. Dis one show say you be confirm Nigerian, no be for mouth. Abeg continue dey do am. We dey your back. Winch no fit stop you. Them no born am well?

  • Oye Nuga Neye

    nice one

  • Becky Swancy Williams

    she go dey vex now what does this mean.

    • Dixie Korley

      shes going to be angry soon

    • Osi Peter Asika

      She is going to be angry now, or as a result of whatever was done. Depends on the inflection of “now”.

  • Rooney Willard

    “vex” is not Pidgin. It is just normal English.

    • Osi Peter Asika

      Well, if we must be precise it is not even English. Origin: Old French vexation or directly from Latin vexationem (nominative vexatio) “agitation”, noun of action from from vexus, from vexare.

  • Becky Swancy Williams

    thank you….

  • Nagesh Rao

    shebi you miss pikin o..n oyingbo? she bi that is also pidgin.

  • Prettybbw Daniels

    Now I can say to my Nigerian bf…why you dey give me wahala? lol

    • Prettybbw Daniels

      Correction…Not bf..My Man !

    • Prettybbw Daniels

      but he don’t give me problems.. I think I give him problems.. na so ? …I no no ……

    • Olu Adeolu

      Lol…..if u no no……baby u go sabi

    • Olu Adeolu

      Na so so wayo full this site o gurly make u dey carefull o…..make dem no nack u oo

    • Olu Adeolu

      Area boys

    • Prettybbw Daniels

      omg my sweet man Olu Adeolu …..I’m in trouble now……uhmmm na so? :-) :-)

    • Olu Adeolu

      My baby na so…. Abi u never sabi? O gurl shine ur eyes o

    • Prettybbw Daniels

      I sabi….no be like that….so wetin dey happen?

  • Phunakarn Sai-ngam Mcdonald’s

    How to say.where are u going?

    • oopela10

      were u dey go?

  • http://YourWorldYourHome.com/ YourWorldYourHome.com

    Great stuff!

  • m

    there is no language called nigerian there are over 260 languages and dialects in Nigeria. The prominent ones are yoruba hausa and igbo but even those have various dialects depending on what state you come from so you have to be more specific.

  • barbie

    Am nigeria but I don’t know how to speak much. Thanks now I can learn.

  • marcijelly

    how do I say “I miss you” please?

  • Xbox 360

    Wow, I’m in love with my Nigerian Brothers, don’t matter what people say, deep down they are awesome people. Planning to go there in August for a holiday hence I’m learning Pidgin….Please add more phrases if u can.

  • bmasene

    Thank,i’m from Botswana,very happy to learn this laguage..

  • nadia

    I know go feet stand You

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