On being the one to stumble.

We have language exchange for an hour, twice a week. We sit at a picnic table, speaking English for the first half hour and Somali for the second half hour. In English, I wear my “encouraging” face, nodding with eyebrows raised, while she sputters and stumbles around absentee vocabulary. In Somali, I sputter and she encourages, repeating sentences so slowly they cease to connect — just a list of words I struggle to grasp.

I appreciate her, though. We have a sort of mutual understanding, which is surprisingly hard to come by. We both recognise that the other has thoughts and ideas far beyond what is expressible in a foreign tongue. I can see it in her eyes, the way they search and consider and crinkle around the edges when the right word doesn’t come. She can see it in my hands, in how they tense and flatten with frustration when I can’t transform my thought into Somali. We just sit there, looking at each other, trying to guess what the other wants to say. 

It must be something incredible, I think. She is already an incredible speaker in English, even though she’s missing basic words like “stone” and “roof.” To understand her in Somali would be beyond striking, and that has become my motivation. I don’t care about buying things in the market, or answering the phone — no, no. I just want to learn Somali to understand her ideas, the ones that just won’t cooperate in English.

I listen — ii gu celi? — and then listen again. I can tell she’s continuing our conversation about justice, but I lose her in translation. My response is feeble, but I’m glad for the chance to try. Otherwise, our interactions would be defined by English. I would always be fluent, and she would always have to stumble.

Do They Not See The Birds? (Thoughts from Arabic Class, P.1)

I’ve started attending Arabic classes twice a week — one class for standard Arabic, and one class for Qur’an.

In Qur’an class, the student beside me reads the verses out loud with a fluency I have yet to achieve, repeating longer and longer sections of the verse until she can recite the verse in its entirety. Like much in life, there is a method to the learning, and she is an expert in the process. It comes out in breaths, not sentences. Exhale, and there is a verse. Quick inhale, and the recitation resumes.

Standard Arabic class, on the other hand, is stilted for all of us. It’s strange, somehow, like learning a language we already know — me, having already studied it, and the others, having recited in it for their entire lives. We read quickly, beyond thinking about the pronunciation of individual letters. Yet, we still stumble on basic grammar, asking the teacher what the difference between “he” and “she” is.

Yes, of course, we nod vigorously as she re-explains what we knew all along, somewhere inside. This learning is like digging up treasures we buried ourselves and then forgot the locations of.

Pieces of both classes echo in my mind at the end of the week, an alternating chorus.

What is your name? Where are you from?
The knowledge is only with Allah.

What is your nationality?
Do they not see the birds above them with wings spread and folded in?
Her brother is an engineer.
Return your vision to the sky. Do you see any breaks?

Fluency still feels like a distant horizon, but there is some poetry in not fully understanding.

22 WPD Update: Two Weeks In

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll have noticed that I’m behind. Today is Day 18 (or it should be, rather), and I haven’t posted vocabulary since Day 14. This isn’t a fluke of blogging — I haven’t learned any vocabulary in those four days, either. Life has (strangely enough) been busy, with a trip into Hargeisa, lots of work meetings, and seemingly not enough hours to sit and study.

But beyond a busy schedule, I’ve realized that 22 words per day is simply too much for me. I’ve genuinely committed most of the words to memory, but the constant barrage of so many words every day means that I am oftentimes catching up and reviewing words a few days later, because I just can’t seem to remember 22 new words per day, every single day. Perhaps that’s because I’m not picking the best words, or it’s because I haven’t yet found the greatest study method, but 22 words per day (every day!) has proven to be a LOT.

So, here’s the new game plan: this will remain the 22 WPD Challenge, but I won’t be doing it every day. Whatever that means for the semantics of the exercise… well, just forgive the inaccuracy in titling. I’m still studying Somali, still learning new vocabulary, but maintaining this pace has proven a bit too much. Perhaps I’ll work up to it.

In any case, the new challenge is going to be seeing how many days I can complete within 180 days. If I learn 25 days’ worth of vocabulary? Great. If I learn 100 days’ worth of vocabulary? Even better. Regardless, the standard I’m setting for myself in this challenge is no longer perfection. The goal is not to do every day without fail, but rather to just do my best.

Always good to end a blog post with a cliché, right?

Somali Environment/Climate Vocabulary (22 WPD: Day 14)

Two weeks, whew! Today’s words are about climate, environment, weather, nature, and so on.

  1. ubax = flower
  2. geed = tree
  3. daraar = cloud
  4. lama-degaan = desert
  5. kayn = forest
  6. buur = mountain
  7. roob = rain
  8. cirka = sky
  9. xiddig = star
  10. dabayl = wind
  11. hawo = air
  12. webi = river
  13. haro = lake
  14. ciid = sand
  15. bad = sea
  16. bad weyn = ocean (lit. big sea)
  17. aus = grass
  18. kulayl = hot
  19. qabow = cold
  20. bood = dust (generally)
  21. siigo = dust (as it blows up from the earth)
  22. cadceed = sun

That’s all, folks! I’m having a jamming evening writing and studying and listening to music, so I’m just going to leave this here and get back to that! Happy studying!

(More) Somali Food Vocabulary (22 WPD: Day 13)

In a previous post, I learned vocabulary for foods, mostly fruits and vegetables. Today, I’ll be expanding my repertoire to include other words related to food, such as kitchen items, flavours, and dishes.

  1. cup = bakeeri/koob
  2. fork = farogeeto
  3. spoon = malqacad
  4. knife = mindi
  5. plate = bilaydh/saxan
  6. spicy = besbaas
  7. bad = xun
  8. sweet = macaan
  9. bland = bilaa-dhadhan
  10. egg (from a chicken) = beed/ukun (plural = ukumo)
  11. egg (generally) = ugax (plural = ugxan)
  12. flour = daqiiq
  13. honey = malab
  14. oil = saliid
  15. salt = cusbo
  16. loows = peanuts
  17. cinnamon = qorfe
  18. spices = xawaash
  19. ice = baraf
  20. juice = casiir
  21. wheat = sarreen
  22. stew = sanuunad

Voila — 22 more words! See you again here tomorrow!

Somali Family/People Vocabulary (22 WPD: Day 12)

Today was the first day I could actually use my Somali to express something for a given situation, which was quite exciting for me! Granted, it was simply to ask whether the juice had milk in it, but it still counts!

That being said, the word I wanted to use but didn’t know was for “daughter,” so today’s vocabulary is going to address that gap: family words!

Gendered Family Words

mother = hooyofather = aabbe
grandmother = ayeeyograndfather = awoowe
daughter = gabadhson = wiil
woman/wife = naagman/husband = nin
aunt = eeddouncle = adeer

More Family Words

person = qof
(people = dad)
child = ilmo
(children = carruur)
brother/sister = walaal
cousin = ina-abti
twins = mataano
immediate family = qoys
extended family = reer
family ties = xiddid
qabiil = clan
tol = geneology

Ta-da! Day 12, done.

Somali: Present Tense (Positive)

In this post, we’re going to go through the present tense conjugation, and then do some practice with it.

Conjugating the Present Tense

The present tense in Somali is quite straightforward. You’re just going to take the verb and add suffixes, depending on who the subject is.

subjectverb ends in consonantverb ends in I or EEverb ends in “consonant-consonant-O”(drop the O)verb ends in “vowel-consonant-O”(drop the O)
This table shows the suffixes added in the present tense, depending on the subject.

Overall, we can notice the following patterns:

  • When the subject is either “you” (waad) or “she” (way), the suffix starts with /t/.
  • When the subject is plural, the suffix includes /n/. The /n/ comes at the beginning of the “we” (waannu/weynu) suffix, and at the end of the “you all” (waad) and “they” (wey) suffixes.

The first two columns are very similar, with the following differences:

  • The /+aa/ suffix changes to /+yaa/ when the verb ends in I or EE. This is already how we pronounce that “i+aa” sound, so just remember to actually write in that /y/.
  • The /+taa/ suffix changes to /+saan/ when the verb ends in I or EE.

The last two columns get a bit more complicated, but the general idea (especially with /n/ in plural suffixes) remains. That being said, there are some exceptions and irregularities, so consider the above table as a general rule.

Examples in Practice!

We’re going to start with a collection of sentences using household vocabulary to describe daily routines, mostly conjugated for “waan” (I). Notice how we use waxaan instead of waan when there is an object.

Somali SentenceConjugation BreakdownEnglish Translation
Maxaad sameesaa maalin kasta?samee = do/make
samee+saa = you do
What do you do every day?
Waan kacaa.kac = wake up
kac+aa = I wake up
I wake up.
Waan qubeystaa.qubeys(o) = shower
qubeys+taa = I shower
(notice how “O” drops)
I shower.
Waxaan gashtaa dharkayga.gash(o) = put on
gash+taa = I put on
I get dressed.
Waan cadaydaa.caday(o) = brush teeth
caday+daa = I brush (my) teeth
I brush my teeth.
Waxaan dhaqaa wejigayga.dhaq = wash
dhaq+aa = I wash
I wash my face.
Waan quraacdaa.quraac(o) = eat breakfast
quraac+daa = I eat breakfast
I eat breakfast.
Waxaan baxaa gurigayga.bax = leave
bax+aa = I leave
I leave my house.

Next, let’s look at some sentences which use other pronouns (we don’t want to be selfish)!

Somali SentenceConjugation BreakdownEnglish Translation
Af Soomaliga waxaannu hadalnaa.hadal = speak
hadal+naa = we speak
We speak Somali.
Hilib waxay cuntaa.cun = eat
cun+taa = she eats
She eats meat.
Qado waxay cunaan.cun = eat
cun+aan = they eat
They eat lunch.
Cunto waxuu sameeyaa.samee = make
samee+yaa = he makes
He makes food.
Buug waxaad akhrisaa.akhri = read
akhri+saa = you read
You read a book.
Way shaqtaa.shaqo = work
shaqo-o+taa = she works
She works.
Jir waxaaannu dhisidnaa.jir dhisid = exercise
dhisid+naa = we exercise
We exercise.
Way tukadtaantukado = pray
tukado-o+taan = they pray
They pray.

If anyone spots any corrections (or has any questions), please don’t hesitate to comment! Otherwise, happy studying!

Somali Career Vocabulary (22 WPD: Day 11)

Work, work, work, work, work! It’s a constant topic, in any language. Knowing the words to describe different careers is incredibly useful, whether during introductions or discussions.

Vocabulary words to describe different careers in Af-Soomaali

As a language learner, it’s a good idea to think about how to use vocabulary words in a sentence (eventually, if not yet). For example, career vocabulary is great for a beginning language-learner, because it can be used in grammatically simple sentences such as “I am a _____” or “she is a _____.” In that vein, here are two useful/related phrases.

What do you do for work?
(literally “what is your job?”)
Waa maxay shaqadaadu?
I am a….… baan ahay.
Phrases to ask and answer about careers during introductions

Somali Animal Vocabulary (22 WPD: Day 10)

Today, I’m going to focus on learning some basic animals and insects in Somali. I don’t usually bring up animals in conversations, but when you’re learning a language in a rural area, people often like to point to animals and quiz you on them. It’s already happened to me twice, so I figure it’s time I knuckle down and learn these.

  1. faras = horse
  2. ri = goat
  3. dameer = donkey
  4. libaax = lion
  5. ido = sheep
  6. ey = dog
  7. yey = wild dog
  8. jiir = mouse
  9. geel = camel
  10. qorrato = lizard
  11. shimbir = bird
  12. bisad = cat
  13. qudhaanjo = ant
  14. shinni = bee
  15. kalluun = fish
  16. mas = snake
  17. kaneeco = mosquito
  18. caaro = spider
  19. maroodi = elephant
  20. balanbaalis = butterfly
  21. baranbaro = cockroach
  22. aboor = termite

Once I went through all these words with a Somali speaker (what a gift!), I drew little pictures for each one to review. My artistic standards have fallen since Day 1, where I was creating these colorful home decor items, but these sketches worked just fine for today’s purposes (and I’m not planning on hanging them on the walls). In any case, sketches are still a great way to stop translating, and start associating a word with what it means directly.

Such beautiful animals, right? I mean, check out that donkey! And that camel!?!

Whelp, that’s Day 10 in the books, bringing my official grand total for this challenge to 220 words — wild! Plus, now that I’m here, there are so many words just thrown at me that haven’t made it into these pages yet… plenty of review to do!

Somali Questions/Interrogative (“ma” + past tense positive)

In a previous post, I wrote about subject pronouns, in the “declarative” (sentence) sense. Of course, a conversation usually consists of both sentences (declarative) and questions (interrogative). So, today will be about the interrogative, so that we can start putting together small conversations.

Here’s a table showing pronouns, the declarative marker, and the interrogative marker for each person. Just like the declarative marker is formed as “waa+suffix,” the interrogative marker is formed as “ma+suffix.” That being said, it comes out looking like “miy+suffix.”

Forming the Interrogative

Ianigawaanwaxaanma+aan = miyaan
Youadigawaadwaxaadma+aad = miyaad
Heisagawuuwaxuuma+uu = miyuu
Sheiyadawaywaxayma+ay = miyay
We (exc.)aanagawaannuuwaxaannuma+aannu = miyaannu
We (inc.)innagawaynuwaxaynuma+aynu = miyaynu
Ya’llidinkawaydinwaxaydinma+aydin = miyaydin
Theyiyagawaywaxayma+ay = miyay

Using the Interrogative

Note: the rest of this post assumes you’re already familiar with the simple past tense (positive). If you need a refresher, click here for the post about the past tense.

Okay, let’s leave the jargon behind. These “ma” words are used similarly to the English question word “do.” Yes/no questions which would begin with “do” in English begin with these “ma+suffix” participles (words) in Somali.

Did you eat lunch?
Qado miyaad cuntay?
Yes, I ate lunch.
Haa, qado waxaan cunay.
Did you sleep?
Miyaad seexatay?
Yes, I slept.
Haa, waan seextay.
Did you (all) arrive?
Miyaydin gaadhteen?
Yes, we arrived.
Haa, waannu gadhnay.
Did they go to Somaliland?
Somaliland miyay tageen?
Yes, they went to Somaliland.
Haa, Somaliland waxay tageen.
Did you (all) drink tea?
Shaah miyaydin cabteen?
Yes, we drank tea.
Haa, shaah waxaannu cabteen.
Did he enter the house?
Guriga miyuu galay?
Yes, he entered the house.
Haa, guriga waxuu galay.
Did she bring breakfast?
Quraac miyay keentay?
Yes, she brought breakfast.
Haa, quraac waxay keentay.
Reminder: I am a language-learner, and am very open to any corrections! Please comment if you see any errors!

Obviously, there aren’t any “no” answers so far — I haven’t learned the negative version of the past tense yes, but I’ll be sure to share when I do!