Lesson 1: Lingala Sounds

The Lingala Alphabet (Afabe Ya Lingala)

There is no standard spelling system in Lingala. The alphabet consists of:

  • 22 letters from the latin alphabet
  • 2 special letters
  • 7 vowels (Today’s lesson)
  • 12 simple consonants and a number of combined consonants
  • 13 consonant combinations

The Vowels in Lingala (Mileli Ya Lingala)

Formal Lingala has 7 vowels while Standard Lingala has 5 vowels (lacks ε and ɔ). These vowels are phonemes. It means that depending on the vowel one picks, the meaning of the word completely changes. Lingala has two tones: high and low. The high tone is represented with an acute accent (e.g; í), while the low tone is unmarked (e.g.: i).

Now, let’s learn and practice some vowels in Lingala!

i – u mbíla palm tree nut mbúla rain
i – e kolímwa dissapear kolémwa to get angry
e – ε* kobéla to boil kobÉla to be sick
ε – a mbélé pottery mbálá potatoes
a – ɔ kosana to play kosɔnɔ to sew
ɔ* – o nzɔ’tɔ’ stars nzóto body
o – u kobóta to give birth kobúta


1. Bwantsa-Kafungu. J’apprends le Lingala tout seule en trois mois. Kinshasa, DRC
2. The encyclopedia of Writing Systems and Languages –


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