Basic Harari Language for Travellers

The Harari name for the Harari language is “gey sinan,” which literally means “language of the city.” Aside from the diaspora, Harari is a language associated with just one city — Harar — and many people in Harar also speak Amharic, Afaan Oromoo, Somali, English or one of Ethiopia’s many other languages.

Harari was first written with an adapted version of the Arabic script, and but is now commonly written with fidel (the same script as Amharic). However, writing Harari with Latin characters is also common, and for simplicity, that’s the version we will use here.

Hello = Aman/Ahalan
How are you? (formal) = Amentekhu?
I’m fine (formal) = Amanintegn.
I’m fine (informal) = Aman.
Goodbye! = Allahule amana!
See you later. = Atahari natra.
What is your name? = Sumkha-khesh manta?
My name is ______. = Sume ______ enta.
Where are you from? = Ay badbentakh-tash?
I am from ______. = ______ be inebrakh.
please = allakhaw-khashu
sorry = oofi
excuse me = ahadgir
thank you = gaza yagabzal yushen/alla magah
no problem = taab elam/ahadum
yes = ee // no = mei
dog = buchi
cat = aduru
donkey = wachara
hyena = waraba
like (verb) = mawded
good = or
bad = ari
beautiful = yaqumsi
food = hangur
breakfast = qura’
lunch = laqen
dinner = hirat
eat = mabla
water = miy
coffee = bun
culture = ada
mosque = masjid
church = kanisa
baazar/market = magala
wall = jugal
road = uga
door(s)/gate(s) = bari(yach)
relative = ahli
mother = ai/ay
father = aw
close friend = dad ahli
classmate = ashiday
neighbour(s) = toya(ch)
home = gar
door = gambari
window = shubakh
inside = ustu
outside = abat
countryside = bari qachi
village = bandar
river = zar
desert = udma
mountain = sari

So Many Ethiopian Languages… Why Amharic?

There are over eighty languages in Ethiopia, and yet Amharic (the language of Amhara) dominates. Of course, it is convenient to have a lingua franca, but only ~30% of Ethiopians speak Amharic as their native language (the most-spoken native language is Afaan Oromoo) — what gives?

Amharic (based on the ancient language, Ge’ez) has been considered the “official” language of the Ethiopian empire since the reign of Emperor Menelik II (1881-1913), when he starting using it as the functional language in administrative offices. Depending on who writes the history books, Menelik’s reign was defined by either brutal military conquest or the expansion of the great Ethiopian empire. Either way, he took over a lot of non-Amharic- speaking people, and Amharic began its role as the language of the conquerer.

Emperor Haile Selassie (r. 1930-1974) promoted Amharic as a tool of unification (or domination — again, perspective is a fickle beast), trying to develop (or force) a common language and culture for an incredibly diverse empire. When Italy occupied Ethiopia (1935-1941), the Italians promoted use of local languages, hoping undermine these unification efforts, in order to divide and conquer.

But, when Haile Selassie regained power, he re-solidified use of Amharic, including the media. All newspapers were in Amharic, except for one in Tigrinya. Two-thirds of radio time was reserved for Amharic programs, with Tigrinya, Somali, Tigre, and Afar (the only other languages even allowed on the radio) squeezing collectively into the other third of the time.

When the Derg Regime took control in 1974, they declared Amharic would no longer dominate and local languages would be respected. They decided primary school would be taught in one of fifteen languages: Amharic, Oromo, Tigrigna, Walaita, Somali, Hadiya, Gidole, Tigre, Kambata, Kunama, Sidama, Silti, Afar, Kefa-Mocha or Saho.

Ironically, because the literacy campaign insisted on writing all of these languages with the Amharic alphabet (fidel), and because many of the teachers they sent to the rural areas only spoke Amharic (and not the local languages they were meant to teach), their campaign actually wound up spreading Amharic, instead of promoting local language use.

The Derg was overthrown in 1991, and the 1994 Constitution defined three basic rules about language use (1994 Constitution, Article 5):

  1. All Ethiopian languages shall enjoy equal state of recognition.
  2. Amharic shall be the working language of the Federal Government.
  3. Members of the Federation may determine their respective languages.

Today, Amharic is the official, national language. It is also the official language for four regional states (Amhara, SNNPR, Benishangul-Gumuz, and Gambella) and two federal cities (Addis Abeba and Dire Dawa). Afaan Oromo, Tigrinya, Harari, Afar, and Somali are official, regional languages in their respective regions. In some zones and districts, there are other locally-official languages. Primary school is still taught in local languages; there are currently 21 different languages used to teach primary school.

In 2020, Tigrinya, Somali, Afar, and Afaan Oromo were officially added as national languages, although in practice, Amharic is still the primary national language.

Somali Proverbs: A Grammar Lesson

As a language-learner, I love proverbs. They’re an easy way to express complex thoughts and reactions to situations. Of course, you don’t use them in daily conversation, but they’re nice to have in your back pocket. Then, once in a while, during that deep conversation where you really need to express something more, you can pull one out (or understand if someone else pulls one out). Plus, they’re fun as a party trick (and to show some familiarity with a culture).

On top of that, when you can find proverbs translated, they’re a great way to learn a language! In this post, I’m going to sort through some proverbs (which I found here and here), group them together by grammatical features, and hopefully get some practice in Somali!

“[A] waa [B].”

The first common sentence structure I noticed in the proverbs is “[A] waa [B],” which is a simple grammatical structure meaning “[A] is [B].” These are great for language-learning practice, because they’re so straightforward. Once we know the vocabulary, we can understand the whole proverb!

  • Af daboolan waa dehab.
    (af = mouth, daboolan = covered/closed, dehab = gold)
    A covered/closed mouth (ie. silence) is golden.
  • Nin is faanshay waa ri’is nuugtay.
    (nin is = he who faanshay = bragged, ri’is = she-goat, nuugtay = suckled)
    He who bragged is a she-goat who suckled [herself].
  • Rag waa shaah, dumarna waa sheeko
    (men = rag, shaah = tea, dumarna = women, sheeko = stories)
    Men are tea, women are conversation.

“[A] la’aani waa [B] la’aan.”

This type of proverb is grammatically similar to the “[A] waa [B]” type, except that this time, the proverbs are saying “the absence of [A] is the absence of [B].”

  • Aqoon la’aani waa iftiin la’aan.
    (aqoon = knowledge, iftiin = light)
    The absence of knowledge is the absence of light.
  • Naag la’aani waa naf la’aan.
    (naag = woman, naf = soul)
    The absence of woman is the absence of a soul (ie. life).
  • Haween la’aani waa hoy la’aan.
    (haween = woman, hoy = shelter)
    The absence of woman is the absence of shelter (ie. home).

“[A] ma [verb].”

“[A] ma [verb]” means “[A] does not [verb].” The main grammatical feature of these proverbs is going to be the negative present tense. Notice that the object in the sentence (when present) comes right before the “ma” (Somali is a SOV language, with the subject-object-verb sentence order).

  • Sirow ma hodmo.
    (sirow = cheater/liar, hodmo = prosper/succeed)
    A cheater doesn’t prosper.
  • Hadal badan haan ma buuxsho.
    (hadal = talk, badan = a lot/much, haan = vessel, buuxsho = fill)
    Lots of talk doesn’t fill the vessel.
  • Tuug tuug ma xado.
    (tuug = thief, xado = steal/rob)
    A thief doesn’t rob a thief.
  • Far keliya fool ma dhaqdo.
    (far = finger, keliya = only/one/single, fool = face, dhaqdo = wash)
    One finger doesn’t [can’t] wash a face.

Looking at all these proverbs, I realize that the ones I actually understand have the simplest grammatical structures. Hopefully, as I keep learning more about Af-Soomaali, I’ll be able to go back and repeat this exercise with some more advanced grammar!

Essential Language for Travel Anywhere

If you’re travelling to a place where people speak another language, it’s your responsibility to figure out how to communicate! Depending on the place, you might also expect people to speak your language. Depending on what your language is, they very well might! Remember, however, that nobody is required nor expected to speak your language just because you do.

So, it’s up to you to communicate. Sometimes, that means hiring an interpreter, checking whether your smartphone translates that language, or (if you have certain sentences you need people to understand (such as communicating a severe food allergy to every restaurant you enter), making cards with those sentences in the language.

Whatever other methods you use, I’m also a strong believer in the importance of language-learning for travel. That’s right: try and learn the language (at least a little bit). Whether you’re visiting for five days or five weeks, being able to communicate — even on the most basic level — is essential to being a respectful traveller and having positive interactions during your trip.

Never fear, if you’re a novice language-learner: I’ve put together some simple recommendations of which words you might want to learn for your trip. If you’re just trying to learn a few words for a short trip, we won’t worry about grammar or full sentences — this is all about simplicity (even if you will occasionally sound very strange).

Top 10 Essential Words/Phrases

  1. Hello: Regardless of where you’re going, learn a greeting! Some languages have complex greetings, depending on the person and time of day — don’t worry about this. Just find a greeting that works for anyone, at any time, and use it with everyone!
  2. Good: Knowing how to say “good” is the easiest way to give a compliment (you can point to your meal and tell the waiter that it was good), or assuage any concerns (you can ensure concerned people that you are indeed comfortable and good in your bus seat). It’s useful in a thousand different circumstances. If you’re feeling extra motivated, learning the words for “delicious” and “beautiful” is also a great idea.
  3. Thank you: Some cultures use “thank you” less commonly than others, but it’s still a great phrase to know and use. When you’re travelling, you’re constantly a guest in someone else’s territory, and it’s good to share your gratitude for any welcome you receive. Bonus: if you’re up for learning another word, “please” is also polite.
  4. Sorry (Excuse Me): If you’re travelling somewhere you’re unfamiliar with the customs, norms, and simple traffic patterns, you’re bound to mess up at some point. If you bump into someone or accidentally do something rude, you’ll want to know a quick apology. It’s just manners.
  5. Bathroom: Just learn it. You don’t want to play charades.
  6. Restaurant: Whether you’re wandering around a city trying to find a place to eat, or confused as to whether the place you just entered actually serves food (this happens surprisingly often), being able to ask, “restaurant?” is incredibly helpful.
  7. How much?: You’re going to want to ask the price of something. Of course, you’ll also want to understand the answer; if you’re up for it, also consider learning numbers. This can really smooth out your interactions (especially when exchanging money).
  8. When?: When arranging transportation or planning anything, it’s super helpful to know how to ask the time. Even if you sound a little strange, saying “when bus Addis Ababa?” will get your point across. Again, knowing some numbers to understand the answer is also helpful.
  9. Where?: Here’s a great word to combine with some of your other words (remember, we’re ignoring grammar). You can ask “where hotel?” or “where restaurant?” or “where bus?” — super useful.
  10. ## People: Whether you’re trying to get a table in a restaurant or seats on a bus, it’s helpful to be able to communicate the number of people in your party. Just learn the number for how many you are and the word for “people.”

Learning Amharic? You should learn fidel.

You’re about to start a long hike in the desert. It’s going to be hot, and you’re carrying a heavy load of camping gear. Naturally, you’re looking for any way to make your hike less gruelling. You consider your backpack, and think of how to eliminate some weight. For a moment, you consider bringing less water… but then you shake yourself back to reality. Less water? No way, water is essential for this trip. You need water.

Learning a language is a lot like this hike. It’s going to be a long process, and it’s not going to be easy. As a new language-learner, you look for ways to make the pack lighter, to make this process easier. But, just as water can’t be left behind on a hiking trip, writing — even if it means learning a new alphabet — can’t be left behind when learning a language.

Amharic, a language with 200+ fidels (characters), can feel especially daunting. It’s so, so tempting to learn Amharic by writing Amharic words with the Latin alphabet — frankly, though, that’s an awful idea. Whether you’re just prepping for a few weeks in Ethiopia, or whether you’re hoping to read some of Ethiopia’s famous poetry in the original language, learning fidel is an absolutely essential part of learning Amharic.

Knowing fidel is essential to correct pronunciation.

Firstly, learning fidel is key to correctly pronouncing all that Amharic vocabulary you’re learning. Amharic has sounds that don’t exist in English, which means that you’ll likely confuse yourself by trying to approximate their English equivalents. Plus, many English letters (especially vowels) can be  pronounced in multiple ways, making it hard to take accurate notes of Amharic pronunciation without fidels. For example, you might write down a pronunciation as “bi,” thinking it’s perfectly clear. Yet, when you go back to study, you might not remember whether it’s pronounced like “bicycle,” “bistro,” or “big.”

While it’s going to take some extra effort, learning fidel means you’ll consistently be able to write and pronounce words correctly — and that pronunciation matters. Mispronouncing one letter can make a big difference (think of the English words “six” and “sex”). Learning fidel helps familiarize you with the different sounds, in order to avoid such mishaps. In Amharic, for example, the words ቻው and ጨው (meaning “goodbye” and “salt,” respectively), could both be written as “chaw” by a language learner who is unfamiliar with fidel. In order to correctly pronounce the difference, learning fidel is crucial.

Knowing fidel helps you be a safe and savvy traveller.

Next, learning fidel is massively important during travel, even if you’re not fluent in the language. Being able to read basic signs is key to being a savvy traveller and staying safe. Even without knowing very much vocabulary, being able to read the destination city on your bus ticket helps you be sure you’re headed to the right place. Knowing how to recognize cognates on street signs (such as “hotel” and “pension,” which are the same in both Amharic and English) will help you spot local places to sleep. Plus, being able to spot the “ጁስ” (juice) signs is always a bonus. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a fast reader, or whether you can pronounce everything perfectly. Knowing fidel just means that you’ll be able to sound out some words, which will make you a more confident and independent traveller.

Knowing fidel is essential to continuing to learn Amharic.

Finally, if you have any desire to continue your language-learning beyond the basics, knowing fidel is essential to using most language-learning resources. Most Amharic-English dictionaries don’t include transliterations, nor do many textbooks. Reading Amharic books (from childrens’ books to epic poetry, depending on your level) is a great way to practice, but it requires literacy. Plus, if you have the chance to study with an Amharic-speaker as a tutor or a language partner, it’ll be very confusing and difficult to work together if you’ve written all your notes and vocabulary lists without fidel — imagine if an Amharic speaker only knew how to write English using Amharic fidels! Learning fidel is a fundamental building block. If you don’t bother, you’re simply impairing your future language-learning progress.

So yes, it’s a lot. Especially for a language like Amharic, where the alphabet includes well over 200 fidel characters, becoming literate can feel like a monumental task. However, it’s important to even the most casual language-learner to start with fidel. Whether it’s learning to pronounce new vocabulary, being an independent traveller, or continuing your language study into the future, literacy is key to learning Amharic. Don’t ignore water on a hike, and don’t ignore fidel when learning Amharic.

Afaan Oromoo (Oromo) Language-Learning Resources

Afaan Oromoo (also known as Oromiffa) is spoke by 50+ million people across several countries (mainly Ethiopia and Kenya). Despite being the most common first language in Ethiopia, it was actually banned in Ethiopia from 1941-1991 (starting when Haile Selassie declared the ban, ending with the fall of the Derg regime), for political reasons.

Beginner Resources

  • VOCABULARY: This page has lists of vocabulary in Afaan Oromoo and English, organised by topics such as “colors” and “weather.”
  • VOCABULARY GAMES: Digital Dialects has several vocabulary games to practice basic vocabulary (mostly numbers and some general nouns).
  • VOCABULARY GAMES: MAL has a variety of vocabulary games, and a few games with basic phrases. More extensive than the Digital Dialects page.
  • BASIC QUESTIONS: Beekan Erena’s page (Harvard) lists a variety of introductory questions, which can be good practice exercises for either speaking or writing.
  • VOCABULARY/GRAMMAR: OPride has a PDF version of a 52-page presentation, which includes a great amount of grammar, vocabulary, and practice exercises (as well as some background on Oromo people).
  • PRONUCIATION: Tesfaye Gudeta has made a great set of videos (assembled into a playlist), teaching basic Afaan Oromoo, which is very helpful if you’re looking for audio to go along with your lessons.
  • PRONUNCIATION: Kakuu has made another great set of videos going through introductory Afaan Oromoo lessons. The playlist is here.

Intermediate Resources

  • TEXTBOOK: The old (1975) Peace Corps textbook for Oromiffa includes 20 units, covering different topics. It starts from a beginner level, but because it’s such a substantial text, completing it would bring you to an intermediate level, I believe.
  • TEXTBOOK: A newer (2014) version of the Peace Corps textbook. Completing all the content in this book should bring you to intermediate, as well.
  • DICTIONARY: If you’re working to expand your vocabulary, this Oromo dictionary is a great tool.
  • WIKIBOOK: An extensive collection of Afaan Oromoo grammar lessons — great resource! I came across this on a Peace Corps blog, which credits the Wikibook to PC Ethiopia G4 volunteer John Stevens-Garmon.

Advanced Resources

  • READING: VOA Afaan Oromoo and BBC Afaan Oromoo publish news articles in Afaan Oromoo, which makes great reading practice for those at an advanced level.
  • VIDEOS/LISTENING: BBC Afaan Oromoo also has a video page, which is great as a listening exercise.
  • VIDEOS/READING/EXERCISES: The National Foreign Language Center at the University of Maryland has an extensive collection of Afaan Oromoo exercises, many with audio/video clips involved. Almost all are at the advanced level. Free registration is straightforward and required to view the content.

Somali: Past Tense (Positive)

I’ve learned numbers, pronouns, some basic nouns, greetings, and some basic verb vocabulary… but I still can’t really make sentences.

The missing piece? Grammar, mostly. It’s time for some verb conjugations.

When I’m learning a new language, I usually learn the “past tense positive” as the first verb tense. While many textbooks instinctively start with the present tense, I find that the past tense is more useful. So, that’s what I’m doing here today — past tense, here we come!

Conjugating the Past Tense

Note: The rest of this post assumes you’re already familiar with verbal pronouns in Af-Soomaali (for example “waan” is “I,” “waad” is “you,” etc). If you need a refresher, click here and scroll to the bottom.

Regular Verbs Ending in Consonants

Let’s start with the basic conjugation chart for regular verbs, ending with a consonant. The chart shows the verbal pronoun, and then the suffix attached to the verb in past tense.

waan: : verb+aywaannu: verb+nay
weynu: verb+nay
waad: verb+tayweydin: verb+teen
wuu: verb+ay
way: verb+tay
wey: verb+een
Past tense suffixes for regular verbs ending in consonants, depending on the verbal pronouns.

Frankly, that chart looks like nonsensical jargon, so let’s look at some examples as well.

TAG (go)KEEN (bring)CUN (eat)CAB (drink)
waan tagay
(I went)
waan keenay
(I brought)
waan cunay
(I ate)
waan cabay
(I drank)
waad tagtay
(you went)
waad keentay
(you brought)
waad cuntay
(you ate)
waad cabtay
(you drank)
wuu tagay
(he went)
way tagtay
(she went)
wuu keenay
(he brought)
way keentay
(she brought)
wuu cunay
(he ate)
way cuntay
(she ate)
wuu cabay
(he drank)
way cabtay
(she drank)
waannu tagnay
(we went, exc.)
weynu tagnay
(we went, inc.)
waannu keenay
(we brought, exc.)
weynu keenay
(we brought, inc.)
waannu cunnay
(we ate, exc.)
weynu cunnay
(we are, inc.)
waannu cabnay
(we drank, exc.)
weynu cabnay
(we drank, inc.)
weydin tagteen
(you all went)
weydin keenteen
(you all brought)
weydin cunteen
(you all ate)
weydin cabteen
(you all drank)
wey tageen
(they went)
wey keeneen
(they brought)
wey cuneen
(they ate)
wey cabeen
(they drank)
Here are four regular verbs, ending in consonants, conjugated in the past tense.
Regular Verbs Ending in ‘i’ or ‘ee’

For verbs ending in ‘i’ or ‘ee,’ the conjugations are very, very similar, with some slight adjustments. Notice that when the suffix began with a vowel, a “y” has been added, and when the suffix began with a “t,” the suffix now begins with “s.”

waan: verb+yaywaannu: verb+nay
weynu: verb+nay
waad: verb+sayweydin: verb+seen
wuu: verb+yay
way: verb+say
wey: verb+yeen
Past tense suffixes for regular verbs ending in “i” or “ee,” depending on the verbal pronouns.

Let’s add another chart with some examples.

AKHRI (read)SAMEE (do/make)KARI (cook)QADEE (have lunch)
waan akhriyay
(I read)
waan sameeyay
(I did/made)
waan kariyay
(I cooked)
waan qadeeyay
(I had lunch)
waad akhrisay
(you read)
waad sameesay
(you did/made)
waad karisay
(you cooked)
waad qadeesay
(you had lunch)
wuu akhriyay
(he read)
way akhrisay
(she read)
wuu sameeyay
(he did/made)
way sameesay
(she did/made)
wuu kariyay
(he cooked)
way karisay
(she cooked)
wuu qadeeyay
(he had lunch)
way qadeesay
(she had lunch)
waanuu akhrinay
(we read, exc.)
weynu akhrinay
(we read, inc.)
waannuu sameenay
(we did/made, exc.)
weynu sameenay
(we did/made, inc.)
waannuu karinay
(we cooked, exc.)
weynu karinay
(we cooked, inc.)
waannuu qadeenay
(we had lunch, exc.)
weynu qadeenay
(we had lunch, inc.)
weydin akhriseen
(you all read)
weydin sameeseen
(you all did/made)
weydin kariseen
(you all cooked)
weydin qadeeseen
(you all had lunch)
wey akhriyeen
(they read)
wey sameeyeen
(they did/made)
wey kariyeen
(they cooked)
wey qadeeyeen
(they had lunch)
Here are four regular verbs, ending in “i” and “ee,” conjugated in the past tense.

Here’s a great video to show an example of samee (do/make), conjugated in the past tense. Listen closely for the pronunciation!

Shout-out: Vector Culture has been starting to put out Youtube videos which are PERFECT for language-learners trying to learn Somali. With short videos demonstrating a simple grammar point (plus great sound quality and graphics), they’re building their channel into a fantastic resource for language-learners… hopefully more videos will be coming soon! Here’s their video showing how to conjugate “samee” (do/make) in the past tense (embedded with permission).
Regular Verbs Ending in “o”

For verbs ending with “o,” there are two potential conjugations.

  1. If there are two consecutive consonants (C+C+O) before the final “o” (such as iibso/buy or guurso/marry), then the final “o” changes to an “a” when conjugated.
  2. If there is one vowel and one consonant (V+C+O) before the final “o” (such as noqo/become or seexo/sleep), then the final “o” is dropped with “waan,” “wey,” and “wuu” when conjugated. Verbs which end in “Y+consonant+O” (such as dhegeyso/listen) are included in this group.

There are exceptions to this dichotomy, but this is the general rule for “o-ending” verbs.

ends with C+C+Oends with V+C+O
waan: verb+adaywaan: verb+tay
waad: verb+ataywaad: verb+atay
wuu: verb+aday
way: verb+atay
wuu: verb+tay
way: verb+atay
waannuu: verb+annay
weynu: verb+annay
waannuu: verb+annay
weynu: verb+annay
weydin: verb+ateenweydin: verb+ateen
wey: verb+adeenwey: verb+teen
Past tense suffixes for regular verbs ending in “O,” depending on the verbal pronouns.

As always, here’s a chart with some more example verbs, conjugated in the past tense.

SEEXO (to sleep)GUURSO (to marry)DHIMO (to die)JOOGSO (to stop)
waan seextay
(I slept)
waan guursaday
(I married)
waan dhimtay
(I died)
waan joogsaday
(I stopped)
waad seexatay
(you slept)
waad guursatay
(you married)
waad dhimatay
(you died)
waad joogsatay
(you stopped)
wuu seextay
(he slept) way seexatay
(she slept)
wuu guursaday
(he married)
way guursatay
(she married)
wuu dhimtay
(he died)
way dhimatay
(she died)
wuu joogsaday
(he stopped)
way joogsatay
(she stopped)
waannuu seexannay
(we slept, exc.)
weynu seexannay
(we slept, inc.)
waannuu guursannay
(we married, exc.)
weynu guursannay
(we married, inc.)
waannuu dhimannay
(we died, exc.)
weynu dhimannay
(we died, inc.)
waannuu joogsannay
(we stopped, exc.)
waannuu joogsannay
(we stopped, inc.)
weydin seexateen
(you all sleep)
weydin guursateen
(you all married)
weydin dhimateen
(you all died)
weydin joogsateen
(you all stopped)
wey seexteen
(they slept)
wey guursadeen
(they married)
wey dhimteen
(they died)
wey joogsadeen
(they stopped)
Here are four verbs, ending in “o,” conjugated in the past tense.

አማርኛ (Amharic) Landscape Vocabulary

እሳት ጋሞራ/ïsat gamoravolcanoማማ/mamaisolated place on the top of a mountain

EXERCISE: Fill in the blanks using the given vocabulary words.

  • ዳግት/dagt
  • ዋሻዎች/wašawoc
  • ጅረት/jïrät
  1. አትሀጅም፤ መንገዱ __________ ነው፣ ይዳክማሻል።
    athejm; mängädu __________ näw, yïdakmašal.
  2. በጥንታዊ ጊዜ፣ ከጥንት አባቶች __________ ውስጥ ኖሩ።
    bät’ïntawi gize, kät’ïnt abatoč __________ wïst’ noru.
  3. ክራምት፣ዝናብ ሲዘንብ፣ __________ ይኖራሉ።
    kïramt, zïnab sizänb, __________ yïnoralu.

Somali Greetings and Introductions

As the clock ticks down on my departure for Somaliland, it’s about time I learned the basics of conversation (some of them, at least). My goal for today is to learn a handful of basic questions and basic answers (and to break down the grammar/vocabulary), which would be useful when meeting and greeting someone new.

As a beginner, I’m working on understanding the mechanics of these phrases, but don’t completely understand how the grammar works on each one. If you can fill in the gaps on one that I don’t seem to fully understand, please leave a comment!

I’ve collected and adapted my “phrasebook” from Hawa Abdillahi Ali’s website, Omniglot, and Joy Carter’s book.

Ma nabad baa? = Is it peace? Nabad means “peace.”
Ma shows us that this sentence is a question.
Baa is technically a “focus marker,” but in this context effectively just means “is.”
Nabad miyaa? = Is it peace? Using miyaa is another way to phrase this question.
Miyaa means “is it?”
Waa nabad. = It is peace. Waa means “is.”
Iska waraan? = How’s life? Tell me your news!War means “news.”
Waa la fiicanyahay. = I’m fine.This literally translates to the third person (ie. actually means “it is fine.”)
Ficaan means “fine.”
Yahay is the ending added to an adjective, also effectively meaning “is.”
Magacagu waa maxay? = What’s your name?Magaca means “name.”
Magacaga means “your name.”
Magacaga changes to magacagu when it is the subject of the sentence (like it is here).
Waa maxay means “what?”
Magacaygu waa… = My name is…Magacayga (“my name”) changes to magacaygu when it’s the subject.
Shaqadaadu waa maxay? = What is your work?Shaqo means “work.”
Shaqadaada means “your work,” and it changes to shaqadaadu when it’s the subject.
[Macalin] baan ahay. = I am a teacher.Macalin means “teacher” (for example).
Baan ahay means “I am.”
Xagee ka timid? = Where are you from?Xagee means “where?”
… waxaan ka imid = I am from…Waxaan means “I am”
Barasho wanaagsan = Pleased to meet you.Baro means “learn.” Barasho is derived from that, and means “meet/acquaint.”
Wanaagsan means “good.”
Waan ku faraxsanahay inaan halkan joogo. = I’m happy to be here.Joog means “stay” (or be in a place).
Faraxsa means “happy.”
Waan means “I am.”
Halkan means “here.”
Mahadsanid. = Thank you.

22 WPD (Words Per Day): Language-Learning Challenge (Introduction)

Here are some numbers I’ve heard many times (in reference to language-learning): if you know 100-500 words in a language, you’re a beginner. If you know 1,000-3,000 words, you’ve hit the intermediate level. If you know more than 4,000 words, you’re advanced.

I know less than 100 words in Somali, so that’d make me… a pre-beginner, I suppose. Someone who hasn’t even really begun.

I’ve been “starting to learn Somali” for well over a month now, but since I still know less than 100 words, the lackadaisical approach clearly isn’t working for me. Even after I move to Somaliland, I’ll be working in an English-language environment, where Somali will (despite the multitude of opportunities to practice) remain effectively optional.

I need a goal.

Of course, proficiency in a language is more than a certain number of vocabulary words — I know that. I also know that the beginning stages of language learning requires a good amount of elbow grease… flashcards, memorisation, cramming new vocabulary words. That’s how it works.

This seems as good a way as any to quantify my goal.

Crunching the Numbers

My initial contract is to be in Somaliland for a year. My ideal language-learning goal would be to reach an advanced proficiency in approximately six months. I learned Amharic in Ethiopia on a similar timeline, so while it’s an ambitious goal, it’s workable for me. 

Here’s the plan:

  • If advanced is four thousand words, I’ll learn four thousand Somali words in six months.
  • September + October + November + December + January + February = 181 days
  • To learn 4,000 words, I need to learn 22 words per day (23 per day in February).

What’s The Plan?

The exact plan of how I do this? I’ll try a few different strategies, different methods, and let you know how they work for me. I’ll let you know what makes me feel like a language-learning whizz, and what makes me want to smash my head into the table.

If you’re also working on learning a language and want to join the challenge, or if you have suggestions on what methods I should try, please leave a comment and let me know!

I’ll start September 1. Stay tuned!