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.

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 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!

Somali Daily Routine Vocabulary (22 WPD: Day 9)

I am in Somaliland! Travel went smoothly, and now I’m getting settled in. I’ve realised already that because my work context is in English (compared to Ethiopia, where it was in Amharic), I’m going to have to go out of my way to practice and use Somali on a daily basis. Of course, that’s my plan — I can’t imagine spending a year here and not continuing to study and learn Somali!

In any case, I think the next set of useful vocabulary will be about daily routines. I’ve learned how to conjugate the past tense for most verbs, so I’m going to try and learn vocabulary which can be useful (in connection with that).

  1. eat (verb) = cun
  2. breakfast (verb/noun) = quraac
  3. lunch (noun) = qado
  4. dinner (noun) = casho
  5. clean (verb) = nadifiin
  6. work (noun) = shaqo
  7. work (verb) = shaq
  8. make (verb) = samee
  9. read (verb) = akhri
  10. write (verb) = qor
  11. tea (noun) = shaah
  12. flatbread (noun) = laxoox
  13. bring (verb) = keen
  14. arrive/reach (verb) = gaadh
  15. be quiet (verb) = aammus
  16. then = dabadeedna
  17. teach (verb) = bar
  18. learn (verb) = baro
  19. take (verb) = qaad
  20. be sick (verb) = bug
  21. now = imminka
  22. talk = hadal

Ta-da! Hopefully those will help me communicate about my daily routine, and things that I did.

Somali Town Vocabulary (22 WPD: Day 7)

Hello from the past! I won’t have internet access today, so I’ve prepared my vocabulary list in advance, and scheduled this post.

  1. restaurant = makhayaad
  2. market = suuqa
  3. school = dugsiga
  4. university = jaamacad
  5. pharmacy = farmashiyaha
  6. office = xafiiska
  7. shop/store = dukaan
  8. hotel = hoteel
  9. bar = baar
  10. police station = saldhigga booliska
  11. mosque = masaajid
  12. hospital = isbitaal
  13. intersection = isgoyska
  14. farm= beer
  15. sports field = garoonka ciyaaraha
  16. post office = xafiiska boostada
  17. government office = xafiiska dawladda
  18. jail = xabsi
  19. yard/compound = dayrka
  20. fence = deedka
  21. gate = albaab
  22. river = webi

Since I’m posting this from the past, I don’t actually know how my studying has gone yet! I’ll let you know how I feel about today’s technique (or what that technique even is) once I”m back online.

Somali Clothing Vocabulary (22 WPD: Day 6)

I’ve been finishing up packing, so I’ve definitely got clothing on my mind! So, I figure today is as good of a day as any to learn some clothing vocabulary in Somali.

I already learned on Day 1 of this challenge that “clothes” in Somali is “dhar(ka),” and I’m ready to dive into the rest!

Part 1: Translate-able Dharka Vocabulary

  1. shirt = shaati
  2. pants = surwaal
  3. jacket = jaakad
  4. socks = sharaabaad
  5. shoes = kabo
  6. hijab = xijaab
  7. skirt = goonno
  8. belt = suun
  9. necklace = silsilad
  10. bracelet = jijin
  11. shawl = shalmad
  12. bra = rajabeeto
  13. underwear = nigis
  14. earring = hilqado

Part 2: Non-Translateable Dharka Vocabulary

There are various items of clothing, well-known in Somali culture (even though not everyone wears them), which don’t really have an English equivalent. Instead, I’ve tried to write up brief definitions for each one.

  1. macawis = men’s traditional sarong, tied around the waist
  2. koofiyad = men’s hat, often embroidered
  3. guntiino = women’s traditional dress, a long cloth draped over the body
  4. gorgorad = women’s slip/underskirt, worn with a guntiino
  5. dirac = women’s kaftan-style dress
  6. shash = headscarf worn by women
  7. garbasaar = women’s shawl
  8. abaaya = women’s dress with long sleeves

Actually Learning the Vocabulary

Some days, you just stare at the words and repeat them to yourself until you learn them. Kids, this is not best practice, don’t model your study habits off of this — but for today, it’s the reality for me.

Day 6, done! 132 words down, 3,868 left to go!