The official language in Niger is French, although very few people speak it outside Niamey and even there do not expect a high level conversation with the traders at the markets. The local languages include Djerma (spoken mainly in Niamey and the bordering Tillaberi and Dosso regions), Hausa, Fulfulde and Tamashek (spoken by Tuaregs in north), and Kanuri (spoken by Beri Beri). English is of no use outside the American cultural center and a few big hotels in Niamey. However, you will find English-speakers in border towns along the Nigerian border, such as Birni N Konni and Maradi. These people are usually from Nigeria to the south and in general want something from you. As friendly as they may be, always listen to a professional guide over anyone that speaks some English.
If you learn about 20 phrases in a local language, you will gain respect in a heartbeat. Simply greeting people in their local tongue will make your trip there smoother than you would have ever thought possible.
Top essential 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
Top essential 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 words are also common:
- salam-u-laikum, which roughly means, "peace be with you," and is used in Niger when you enter a house or greet someone
- al hamdallaye, which means to a Nigerien "Bless it, it's finished." It can also mean "no thank you." The latter can also get you out of having to sample possibly dirty food, or from eating at someone's home until your stomach explodes.
- In-shah-allah, which means "God willing." For example, "I'll come to visit your family in-shah-allah."