How to Go About Learning Somali

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How to Go About Learning Somali

Postby katarinaantalya » Mon Feb 05, 2018 5:01 pm

Hello! Frequent lurker, rare poster me has decided to venture off on a new language adventure- Somali! I live (part-time) in Minneapolis and do a lot of outreach with the local community, many of whom are Somali. Therefore, it only follows that I have to learn this fascinating language :lol: However, I don't really know where to start. Somali isn't a particularly popular language to learn, and even at home in Mpls I had a massively difficult time finding learning materials, much more so in my sometimes home here in Montreal. Does anyone have any recommendations on where to start? I studied linguistics, so I've been going through the phonetic rules of the language and whatnot, but haven't been able to start any real learning beyond some phrases on Memrise. I'd really appreciate any recommendations that could be thrown my way :) Thanks!
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Re: How to Go About Learning Somali

Postby Speakeasy » Mon Feb 05, 2018 6:31 pm

Limited Resources for Learning Somali
I have never studied the Somali language and I do not have any intention of ever doing so. Nevertheless, I have noticed that, over the years, a few members have mentioned the Somali language in their logs and elsewhere in the LLORG and in the HTLAL. I conducted a quick search of both language forums and, apart from a number of passing comments, there does not seem to be a discussion of resources for Somali. While I would imagine that you have already conducted exhaustive searches of the Internet, I have listed a few resources below for archiving purposes. If you were to work through the Routledge Colloquial course and the DLI GLOSS files, this might be sufficient preparation for working with an expatriate Somali on a private tutoring basis. Here goes:

Somali Language – Wikipedia

Glossika Somali Files
It would appear that Glossika has (will have) files for practicing the Somali language. However, gaining access to them means accepting the new fee structure.

FSI / DLI / Peace Corps
I have not come across any Somali courses amongst the FSI, DLI, Peace Corps files on Ericounet’s FSI-Language-Courses website. I would assume that these organisations have updated language courses; however, accessing them would require special authorisation.

The DLI GLOSS website contains exercise sets for practicing Somali.

Online Phrase Book materials
A search of the Internet yields the usual fare: ilanguages, learn101, memrise, mylanguageexchange, duolingo, digital dialects, and the like. It would appear that Language Transfer has the intention of developing a course, but it is not yet available.

Somali Grammar Revision, by Liban A Ahmand
Although, at 138 pages, this is a rather slim volume, it has the virtue of being quite recent. The author is a teacher of the language. While there is presently only one review of this grammar on Amazon, I greatly appreciated the customer’s comments including their recommendation of: "A dictionary of Somali verbs in everyday contexts"

(5 stars) An amazing addition to Colloquial somali – H. Forisz – March 2013
I must admit to reading this book with relish - If you can imagine anyone reading a grammar book in that way that is! Having studied Mr Orwin's book "colloquial Somali" at length, it left me with many questions like: how do I say this or how do I say that? Thankfully Mr Ahmad has written one of the few books around for those actually learning Somali. Many books were written either a century ago or are written for the Somali student of English. This is a welcome book for those who have acquired a certain level in Somali. I would say that it is aimed at the intermediate and above student of Somali, but is an invaluable accompaniment to Colloquial Somali. I would also recommend Mr Ahmad's book "A dictionary of Somali verbs in everyday contexts" - this can be understood by beginners as well as those more advanced. Mr Ahmad, please continue to write this kind of book, because even though you may have a small audience, as per say a novelist, We are waiting with breaths held for more instruction on how to learn, speak and understand Somali.

A dictionary of Somali verbs in everyday contexts, by Liban A Ahmand

(5 stars) Great for language enhancement - Nate - July 2017
I'm a native English speaker with short background in Somali language. This book is exactly what I expected. If you already have a foundation in Somali and are looking for language enhancement, then this is an excellent choice. It has a very expansive list of Somali verbs and different contexts you may see them in - for example the Somali verb "dhac" has several meanings depending on the surrounding context, and this book elaborates on those meanings . This book will not teach you basic Somali language.

Routledge’s Colloquial Somali, by Martin Orwin

As you are most likely already aware, the audio recordings accompanying the course book are now freely available via Routledge’s website. Generally speaking, the Routledge’s Colloquial Series language courses provide a very basic introduction to the target language through a series of situational dialogues. The aim is to meet the immediate needs of a short-term visitor to a region where the L2 predominates: arrival at the airport, negotiating a taxi or car rental, arrival at the hotel, introductions, ordering in cafés and restaurants, organising excursions, minor medical matters, and the like; that is, get in, enjoy your visit, get out. The presentation of a few cultural aspects and the explanation of some basic grammatical concepts support the dialogues. Overall, these materials tend to be expanded phrase-book-style courses with the potential taking a determined user to the A1+ level. The only complaint that I have with this series is the unnecessary inclusion of English explanations and instructions in the audio recordings which take up far too much time of the precious two hours of sound files. The reviews on Amazon of this introduction to the Somali language are uniformly positive, which is rather unusual. Although most of them are terse thumbs up expressions of appreciation, the following caught my eye:

(5 stars) fascinating – Michelle Schumacher – May 2010
If you're trying to learn Somali, this is one of the best books that you can find. It's one of the few English-language books that goes into depth about Somali grammar (such as conjugating verbs and proper syntax). As the Somali communities grow in places like the UK and US, hopefully someone will write a more advanced textbook. You will need a dictionary to go along with this book as the glossary is small. Additionally, it is EXTREMELY important to practice speaking with native Somali speakers and learn words and phrases from them. Somali is very much an oral language. Its spelling is also highly phonetic and, in my experience, the language is not particularly difficult to learn as long as you spend some time studying and practice with native speakers. I work with many Somali clients and have several Somali coworkers. In my experience, most Somalis are very helpful toward people trying to learn their language and are understanding if you have trouble pronouncing things correctly. Most Somalis will be presently surprised if a non-Somali person can great them with "Iska Warran?" ("What's the news?") or "Sidee ta haay?" ("How are you?") as few people try and learn anything in their language.

(5 stars) A Good Introduction to Somali – perekladach – May 2009
Somali is a language with many features that will seem exotic to most English speaking learners. Accents are based on pitch (rather than stress) and the placement of the pitch accent often determines the gender of the noun. In addition, nouns can flip genders when they are put into the plural. We're definitely not in Kansas any more. That being said, this is an extremely user-friendly approach to a formidably difficult language. The explanations of the most unfamiliar grammar are very clear and easy to follow. The exercises, which in the beginning lessons are not too difficult, get more challenging as the course goes on, but always remain close to the material already presented.The dialogues start out pretty formlaically- there's a lot of "How are you?" "Come in!" "How's the family?", but they gradually get more interesting, as they follow an English teacher's journey to the Horn of Africa, where he eventually takes up his duties in a Somali town. Do get the CDs, though- a student who knows Arabic would probably find the sounds of Somali pretty familiar, but the stress-tone patterns are likely to be very different and unfamiliar and without a lot of practice it would be difficult to reproduce them acceptably. The author is, incidentally, a scholar of Somali poetry; his website is also worth checking out.

Tinkering (OCD)
Last edited by Speakeasy on Mon Feb 05, 2018 8:34 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: How to Go About Learning Somali

Postby jeff_lindqvist » Mon Feb 05, 2018 6:34 pm

Disclaimer - I don't know any Somali (actually, I think I heard it the first time IRL a year ago (yesterday)).

This is free material I could find:

Headstart2 Somali

Field Support
Somali Cultural Orientation
Language Survival Kits (choose Somali in S-T section for a list of topics, this is the Basic Guide)

English - Somali Phrasebook (PDF, 3.38 MB)
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Re: How to Go About Learning Somali

Postby katarinaantalya » Mon Feb 05, 2018 6:36 pm

Thank you very much!
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Re: How to Go About Learning Somali

Postby Daristani » Wed Feb 07, 2018 1:40 am

Since Orwin's "Colloquial Somali" seems to be the only textbook with audio, it seems it will be essential if you want to learn to speak.

There are two other textbooks, both quite thorough, although unfortunately neither seems to have any audio. They're:

Lehrbuch des Somali, by Catherine Griefenow-Mewis, published by Ruediger Koeppe Verlag in Koeln (still in print and available)


Somali Textbook, by R. David Zorc and Abdullahi A. Issa, published by Dunwoody Press, which is now defunct or "in occultation". Used copies of this are going for ridiculous prices these days, although PDF copies can be found floating around at certain places on the internet.

I think that both are somewhat more comprehensive than the Orwin book; both focus heavily on grammar and are far from "tourist phrasebooks".
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Re: How to Go About Learning Somali

Postby ilmari » Thu Feb 08, 2018 2:27 am

As you may have some reading knowledge of French, here are a few French resources.

Two books published by L'Harmattan:
Parlons somali

Manuel de conversation somali-français
You can read a few pages online. These are not real manuals, but nevertheless serious introductions to the language.

Two websites:

Addendum: There is a 55mn cd to accompany 'Parlons somali'. It has to be purchased separately.
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Re: How to Go About Learning Somali

Postby Axon » Thu Feb 08, 2018 5:23 am

I hesitated posting this because there have been so many other helpful replies, but it seems like courses with audio are in relatively short supply.

Here's a course made by a Youtube polyglot who goes by the name of laoshu505000. It's kind of like a phrasebook and collection of topics and connecting sentences.
He usually speaks with Somali speakers living in the Midwest, actually. FLR Somali.

He has two videos where he goes over the course contents: Level 1 and Level 2

EDIT: I saw that you speak German at a high level, so I looked around for resources in German. Unfortunately Kauderwelsch, maker of superb phrasebooks, doesn't have a Somali version. But I did find this overview: Sprachensteckbrief Somali (PDF)

As iguanamon mentioned, once you have a little grounding in the language you can use government brochures as parallel texts. There's quite a bit in this vein from German-speaking countries.
Here's one example (PDF).
Last edited by Axon on Thu Feb 08, 2018 3:22 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: How to Go About Learning Somali

Postby James29 » Thu Feb 08, 2018 1:48 pm

I looked into learning Somali several years ago. I looked carefully at the Colloquial book/disc and would recommend it. There is also another resource that looked very good. It was a compilation of 60 or so news articles with accompanying audio. It was arranged as a learning/study resource... something akin to an Assimil but with news articles as the text/audio. The company is no longer in business. I believe producer was a company called Dunwoody Press or something like that. That looked like a pretty good resource.
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Re: How to Go About Learning Somali

Postby iguanamon » Thu Feb 08, 2018 2:16 pm

Less Commonly Studied Languages and Minority Languages often have few resources available for learners, and even fewer that are ideal. Having learned a few LCSL's and minority languages, I can tell you that you have to be creative with resources and how to use them effectively. A course or two apparently exist, as has been shared in this thread. Native materials exist- "The Little Prince"; The Bible and The Quran all have been translated into Somali. The Bible and The Quran have mp3 audio available. Not ideal resources, but hey, it's an LCSL. There are other books available in Somali too. VOA Somali and BBC Somali broacast international news in Somali.

Give me a bilingual dictionary, a course, a grammar, some audio and a parallel text I can make myself and I can get pretty far with a language. I've even used government pamphlets for learning. These are good because they are often translated from English so a parallel text can be made with the English original. Minneapolis, Minnesota has a large Somali community. That might be a good place to start to look for translated to Somali materials (I found some). See my post on the blog My experience learning a minority language for more ideas. It's not going to be easy and resources won't fall into your lap. You're going to have to be dedicated and work at it utilizing whatever you can cobble together and native speakers' help too. It can be done. Where there's a will, there's a way.
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Re: How to Go About Learning Somali

Postby katarinaantalya » Mon Feb 12, 2018 4:32 pm

Thank you everybody for all your help - I bought the textbook Colloquial Somali and will hire a tutor when I'm back in Minneapolis to help with my pronunciation. A friend of mine who lives in the Little Mogadishu (aka Cedar-Riverside) neighborhood in Mpls picked up a few books in Somali from a moving neighbor for me. I'm excited to get going :D
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