Somali Food Vocabulary (22 WPD: Day 3)

While nobody likes cramming vocabulary, it’s rather essential in the early phases of language learning. Learning a language is like being a panicked alligator, intent on eating as many fish as possible. Any vocabulary word you see — grab it, chomp it, learn it, keep it. 

This post has two parts. First, today’s vocabulary list. Second (and this is the fun part), we’re going to review the vocabulary today with GAMES!

The Vocabulary

Let’s learn some vocab! Here’s the list of the Somali and English words, plus some comparisons with other languages. I find that identifying cognates and similar words across languages I’ve already studied helps make a foreign language immediately less “foreign.” For Somali, that means a lot of comparisons with Arabic.

tufaaxappleSimilar to the Arabic word for apple, تفاح
muusbananaSimilar to the Amharic word for banana, ሙዝ (or the Arabic موز)
qarre/xabxabwatermelonXabxab is very similar to the Amharic word for watermelon, ሐብሐብ.
basalonionSimilar to the Arabic word for onion, بصلة
baradhopotatoNot completely similar, but you can see the connection to the sounds of “potato” or البطاطس (Arabic), knowing that Somali (and Arabic) replace /p/ with /b/ sounds.
yaanyo/nyaanyotomatoSimilar to the Swahili word for tomato, nyanya.
cananaaspineappleSimilar to “pineapple” in many languages, such as አናናስ (Amharic), أناناس (Arabic), ananas (French/German), nanasi (Swahili), etc.
kaabashcabbageSimilar to the English word for cabbage… you know, cabbage.
rootibreadSimilar to the Indian bread, commonly written in English as “roti.”
caanomilkDon’t get confused with Arabic on this one — the Arabic word for milk is حليب (“halib”), but hilib in Somali means meat.
subagbutterCan see some connection with the Arabic word for butter, زبدة.
qaxwo/buncoffeeSimilar to قهوة (Arabic) or bun/buna (various Ethiopian languages).
hilibmeatDon’t get confused (see the note by caano/milk).
digaagchickenSimilar to the Arabic word for chicken, دجاج (pronounced with the Egyptian /G/).

For pronunciation, here’s a great video which pronounces a lot of food vocabulary (fruits and vegetables) very clearly (with even more words than I’ve included here)!

As promised… vocabulary review games!

Now, I want to take a moment to warn you: the games aren’t going to exactly match my vocabulary list — and that’s not a bad thing. I think it’s good, when learning a language, to be open to additional vocabulary words (even if they’re not your target words for the day). Sometimes, when you’re studying a list of words a little too closely, you get wrapped up in them, and almost learn them as though they’re just one big word. Throwing in a few random words here and there helps break up the words in your mind. Or my mind, rather (I’m not sure what happens in your mind).

Okay, I may have over-hyped this: there are only two games that I found… but they’re great! If you find any more, let me know! These were great practice, in any case.

  1. Digital Dialects: Fruit and Vegetable Review (has both flashcards, and a game where the word appears, and you click on the food which matches)
  2. Sporcle: Find Somali Food (given the word, click on the image of the food)

The Verdict?

I really enjoyed today. I feel like I’ve got a really good handle on these words. The combination of connecting vocabulary to other languages I already know, plus playing review games (especially visual ones) just worked really well for me.

Day 3, in the bag! 66 words down!

Somali Numbers (22 WPD: Day 2)

I’ve challenged myself to learn 22 new Somali vocabulary words every day. Yesterday’s words were about household routines. Today, I’m learning numbers!

Numbers (tirooyin, in Somali) are absolutely essential to learning a new language! My mission for today is to learn how to count from 1-9999999 in Somali, which (quite fittingly) requires learning exactly 22 vocabulary words!

Here’s how I’ve gone about learning today’s 22 words.

PART ONE: Numbers 1-10

We’ll start with our first ten vocabulary words: the numbers 1-10.

Step 1: Listen to pronunciation (with videos).

First, I watched this video. For me, it took a lot of the stress off about mispronunciations (since the video is so casual, and the guy is also trying to learn). They also used a lot of memory tricks to remember the different words, which is a great method.

Then (because I’m in the habit of trying to hear a few different examples of pronunciation, to avoid accidentally adopting one person’s quirks), I also watched this video. It’s less interactive, but it has good, clear pronunciation examples, and is very visual (which I appreciate).

Step 2: Copy down the words (1-10).

I’ve copied down the words from the videos above, and then cross-checked them against the list here. Here’s what I’ve got:

  1. ków
  2. lába
  3. sáddex
  4. áfar
  5. shán
  6. líx
  7. toddobá
  8. siddéed
  9. sagáal
  10. toban

Now, I’ve noticed that certain places use the accent marks, and others don’t. I believe it’s an extra marker for enunciation (and seeing as how I’m such a novice, I can use all the help with enunciation/pronunciation that I can get)! That said, however, I don’t actually believe they’re mandatory, and the accents are omitted.

Step 3: Create (and complete) practice exercises.

I’m a big fan of creating my own practice exercises while studying a language. This way, I practice once while creating the exercise, and then again while completing it! Here, I’ve created three practice exercises using the numbers 1-10, and then provided my answers below — if I’ve made any mistakes in answering my own exercises (ha), please let me know!


Exercise #1: Complete the mathematics problems in Somali.

  1. shán + ków =
  2. toban – líx =
  3. siddéed / lába =
  4. sáddex + áfar =
  5. sagáal / sáddex =

Exercise #2: Decide whether the following are true or false.

  1. toddobá > toban
  2. áfar > líx
  3. ków < lába
  4. shán < sagáal
  5. siddéed > sáddex

Exercise #3: Answer the following questions in Somali.

  1. How many wheels are on most cars?
  2. How many wheels are on a bicycle?
  3. How many countries border Somaliland (including Somalia)?
  4. How many legs does a spider have?
  5. How many legs does an insect have?


Exercise #1

  1. líx
  2. áfar
  3. áfar
  4. toddobá
  5. sáddex

Exercise #2

  1. false
  2. false
  3. true
  4. true
  5. true

Exercise #3

  1. áfar
  2. lába
  3. sáddex (Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia)
  4. siddéed
  5. líx

PART TWO: Numbers 11-9999999

So far, we’ve got the numbers 1-10, and therefore ten vocabulary words. Let’s continue with the list of the rest of the vocabulary we’ll need, and then we’ll talk about how to combine these words to express any number we want!

Step 4: Copy down the rest of the words.

  • 11 = koób iyo toban (koób is irregular, so we’re counting it as a vocabulary word)
  • 20 = labaátan
  • 30 = sóddon
  • 40 = afártan
  • 50 = kónton
  • 60 = líxdan
  • 70 = toddobaátan
  • 80 = siddeétan
  • 90 = sagaáshan
  • 100 = boqól
  • 1000 = kún
  • 1000000 = malyúun

Ta-da, twelve more words, so a grand total of TWENTY-TWO words for today!

Step 5: Learn how these words combine.

Here are the general rules for Somali numbers:

  • The units digit comes before the tens digit (ie. you’d say “four and twenty” in Somali, instead of “twenty-four”).
  • “Ków” becomes “koób” before “iyo.”
  • Larger numbers are constructed quite similarly to English (Somali for “five hundred and seventy four” would translate directly as “five hundred and four and seventy”). The difference is in the ones-tens word order, but the rest is the same.

I’ve really enjoyed playing around with the number generator on You can type in a number (in numerals), and it’ll pop out how it’d be written in the Somali language. It helped me to try a few different numbers, and see how they’re constructed.

Step 6: More practice!

I’ve invented some more practice exercises for myself (and for you, if you’re interested)! Again, the exercises are first, followed by the answers.


Exercise #1: Write out the following numbers in Somali (ie. in words).

  1. 11
  2. 17
  3. 34
  4. 68
  5. 331
  6. 579
  7. 34,623
  8. 67,903
  9. 5,486,922
  10. 8,407,315

Exercise #2: Complete the following math problems.

  1. siddeéd iyo toban + sagaál iyo labaátan =
  2. shán iyo sóddon + labá iyo toddobaátan =
  3. shán boqól iyo líx iyo sagaáshan + sáddex boqól iyo siddeéd iyo labaátan =
  4. sagaál boqól iyo labá iyo afártan + kún iyo shán boqól iyo sáddex =
  5. kún iyo boqól iyo líx + áfar kún iyo sagaál boqól iyo kónton =
  6. sáddex boqól iyo labá iyo afártan kún iyo sagaál boqól iyo shán + labá boqól iyo áfar iyo kónton kún iyo boqól iyo labá iyo sagaáshan =

Exercise #3: Answer the following questions in Somali. You might need to do some quick research.

  1. How many countries are there in Africa?
  2. When (year) did Muse Bihi Abdi become president of Somaliland?
  3. How many regions are there in Somaliland?
  4. What is the population of Hargeisa?
  5. What is the distance (kilometres) between Hargeisa and Jigjiga?
  6. What is the distance (kilometres) between Zeila and Berbera?
  7. What is the distance (kilometres) between Galkayo and Mogadishu?
  8. What is the distance (kilometres) between Bosaso and Borama?
  9. How many days are in a Gregorian year?
  10. How many days are in an Islamic year?


Exercise #1

  1. koób iyo toban
  2. toddobá iyo toban
  3. áfar iyo sóddon
  4. siddeéd iyo líxdan
  5. sáddex boqól iyo koób iyo sóddon
  6. shán boqól iyo sagaál iyo toddobaátan
  7. áfar iyo sóddon kún iyo líx boqól iyo sáddex iyo labaátan
  8. toddobá iyo líxdan kún iyo sagaál boqól iyo sáddex
  9. shán malyúun iyo áfar boqól iyo líx iyo siddeétan kún iyo sagaál boqól iyo labá iyo labaátan
  10. siddeéd malyúun iyo áfar boqól iyo toddobá kún iyo sáddex boqól iyo shán iyo toban

Exercise #2

  1. toddobá iyo afártan
  2. boqól iyo toddobá
  3. sagáal boqól iyo áfar iyo labaátan
  4. lába kún iyo áfar boqól iyo shán iyo afártan
  5. líx kún iyo líx iyo kónton
  6. shán boqól iyo toddobá iyo sagaáshan kún iyo toddobá iyo sagaáshan

Exercise #3 (some of these answers might vary slightly depending on your source — for the distance questions, I’m using the approximate driving distance)

  1. áfar iyo kónton
  2. labá kún iyo toddobá iyo toban
  3. líx
  4. malyúun iyo labá boqól kún (source)
  5. boqól iyo líxdan
  6. toddobá boqól iyo labaátan
  7. kún iyo kónton
  8. sáddex boqól iyo shán iyo líxdan
  9. sáddex boqól iyo áfar iyo kónton


I managed to memorise them relatively quickly, but it feels like they’re just in my short-term memory. Give me a few days, and I’ll forget them all again. It’s only once I’m immersed and using the numbers on a daily basis that they really start to stick in my brain.

Here’s what I think worked well for me today:

  1. Listening to audio clips of the vocabulary before I started helped me feel more confident about my pronunciation. Listening to multiple sources is always a good idea, if available.
  2. Writing my own exercises and completing them provides multiple repetitions, which works well as a learning technique for me.
  3. Splitting the vocabulary into sections, and learning them consecutively (rather than learning all 22 words at once) helped to make today manageable.

Here are the less-fabulous parts of today’s studies…

  1. I think these exercises made me better at recognizing/reading numbers, whereas my writing/production skills are still a bit slow. I think this is just a symptom of doing exercises on paper (ie. typed) with the “interactive/immersive” aspect.
  2. Frankly, it was a bit boring. It’s fine once in a while, but if I had to do this every day for six months, I’m not sure I’d make it. I need to make things a bit more engaging for myself. On the other hand, maybe this was just one of those things that isn’t flashy and fun, but is super necessary… just putting in that elbow grease!

Regardless, I did it! Day #2 in the books, adding twenty-two more vocabulary words to my list! That makes 44 in total… come back tomorrow for the next set!

Somali Household Vocabulary (22 WPD: Day 1)

If you haven’t already read about my 22 WPD Language-Learning Challenge, you can read about it here. If you’re ready to start, HERE WE GO!

Pre-Week Thoughts

It’s the beginning of week one! I’m a little bit nervous, because I’ve set myself quite a high bar (and done so quite publicly, this being a blog and all), and it’s always nerve-wracking to put myself into a situation where I might fail. But, that sort of risk is what life is all about, and I’m ready for the challenge! I’ve got 22 words to learn each day, so I should know 99 words in Somali by the end of the week.

Today’s Language-Learning Technique

We’re going to start this week with something artsy (I’m trying to make decorations for my new home) — vocabulary with pictures! I find that taking the time to draw/decorate/colour each word helps each word stick in my brain, and then I can hang the sheets on my walls (and looking at them later will help me review). Since I’m planning on hanging them on my walls, I’ll select words about my new home and my daily routine (of things I’ll do there).

The Vocabulary List

Note: I’m counting related yet distinct words (such as caday/toothbrush-noun and cadee/brush-verb) as two separate words. Suffixes, however, don’t justify counting a second word (such as dhar and dharka). Phrases which include two words count as two words (such as ilko cadee).

PS. I’ve marked the part of speech as either (n) for noun or (v) for verb.
PPS. Shoutout to u/xaayow on Reddit for helping me clarify several of today’s vocabulary words!

  • dhaq (v) = wash (1)
  • fur (v) = open (2)
  • xidh (v) = close (3)
  • dhar (n) = clothing (4)
  • dharka gash (n-v) = get dressed (5)
  • ilko cadee (n-v) = brush teeth (6-7)
  • istaag (v) = stand up (8)
  • caday (n) = toothbrush (9)
  • hurdo (v) = sleep (10)
  • gal (v) = enter (11)
  • bax (v) = leave (12)
  • guri (n) = house (13)
  • qubeyso (v) = shower/bathe (14)
  • albaab (n) = door (15)
  • sariir (n) = bed (16)
  • kac (v) = wake up (17)
  • daqaad (n) = window (18)
  • kursi (n) = chair (19)
  • musqul (n) = toilet (20)
  • fadhiiso (v) = sit (21)
  • seexo (v) = lie down/sleep (22)

Now that I’ve got the words down, it’s time to do some arts and crafts! Here’s what I came up with:

Here are the little pieces of paper I made with today’s vocabulary words! It’s 18 sheets covering 22 words. Looks nice, no? I’m excited to decorate my new home with them.

The Verdict?

Overall, I quite enjoyed this vocabulary-learning technique:

  1. Drawing pictures meant I was only writing in Somali (instead of translating), and associating the Somali words directly with the meaning, which is great.
  2. The process of drawing out the page, coloring it in, and then going back to outline everything in black meant that I was focusing on each word three separate times, for a decent duration each time. This repetition really helps me learn new vocab.
  3. I’m excited to hang the pages in my new home, and I think that seeing the words every day will help to solidify them into my long-term memory.

That being said, there are a few limitations with this technique:

  1. It’s incredibly time-consuming, and a little tedious. Definitely not the most efficient study method.
  2. Some words are simply easier to represent in an image than others. As I move into more complex vocabulary, the idea of drawing an easy picture might fall short.
  3. Not every word is going to be super relevant to my house. Sure, I can hang “sariir” above the bed, and “qubeyso” outside the shower, but not every word is going to have such an obvious connection. If I start hanging hundreds of words everywhere in my house, it’s just a recipe for mental chaos… there’s a limit to this method.

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!