With thanks to Said el-Gheithy
The indigenous language spoken throughout Zanzibar is Swahili (called Kiswahili locally). This language is also spoken as a first language by Swahili people along the east African coast, particularly in Kenya and mainland Tanzania, and as a second or third language by many other people throughout east Africa (including Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, and in parts of several other countries such as Rwanda, Mozambique and Congo), making Swahili the common tongue of the region. Although there are many forms and dialects found in different areas, visitors with a basic grasp of Swahili will be understood anywhere.
Swahili is an African language, and includes many words and phrases of Arabic origin, plus words from other languages such as Persian, English and Portuguese. Over the centuries Swahili has developed into a rich language, lending itself especially to poetry. Zanzibar is regarded as the home of Swahili – it is spoken in its purest form here and in pockets on the coast of Tanzania and Kenya. In fact in these areas, tradition dictates that ordinary conversation should approximate the elegance of poetry. Generally, as you travel further inland on the east African mainland, the Swahili gets increasingly more basic and simplified.
For visitors, English and several other European languages, such as French and Italian, are spoken in Zanzibar Town and most tourist areas. However, if you get off the beaten track a few words of Swahili will be useful to ask directions, to greet people or even to begin a simple conversation. Even in the tourist areas, using a few Swahili words (for example, to ask the price of a souvenir, or order a meal in a restaurant) can add to the enjoyment of your visit. Arabic is also spoken.