Burundi has two official languages: Kirundi and French. Kirundi is a Bantu (African) language belonging to the Benue-Congo family and is closely related to Kinyarwanda, the official language of neighbouring Rwanda. It is spoken by all Burundians, regardless of ethnic background. French is used in official and legal documents, by the media, in universities and for international communications.

People who live beside Lake Tanganyika and in Bujumbura may speak Swahili, which is the language spoken by the Muslim community and used in commerce. Swahili, like Kirundi, is of Bantu origin, but, over time, it has acquired many words from Arabic and other languages. The Swahili spoken by Burundians is different from that spoken in neighbouring countries.

Knowledge of the English language is growing as Burundians realize its importance in opening up the country to the international business world.

Proverbs are an important part of oral expression. Burundians do not explain the proverbs they use; proverbs are intended to make the listener think. In order to understand their meaning, a person usually needs to know about local customs, history or current events. Typical proverbs include "When an enemy digs a grave for you, God gives you an emergency exit"; "You can straighten a tree only while it is still a young plant"; and "Truth will go through fire but will never burn."

   Did you know?
The importance of cattle is demonstrated in the traditional Kirundi greeting Amasho,which means "May you have herds of cattle." Wishing people "herds of cattle" is a way to wish them good health and prosperity.
Studio Ijambo (which means "wise words" in Kirundi), a radio station established in 1995, employs Hutu and Tutsi staff and offers news, public affairs information, cultural programming and dramas that are intended to reduce fear and mistrust between the country's two main ethnic groups. The station has established a reputation for unbiased reporting and its broadcasts are used regularly by international news organizations.

  English Kirundi
  Hello   Bwa
  Good morning   Mwaramutse
  Good evening/night   Miriwe Kirundi/Ijororyiza
  How are you?   Amakuru maki?
  I'm fine   Nameza
  Goodbye   N'agasaga/N'akagaruka
  What is your name?   Witwa nde?
  My name is ...   Nitwa ...
  Do you speak English?   Uvuga icongereza?
  Yes   Ego/Egome
  No   Oya