Somali Language Guide

Learning Somali Language: A Comprehensive Guide

So, you want to learn Somali language? Hopefully this post will serve as a resource for you.

Table of Contents

Learn Somali Language for Begginers

Introduction to the Somali Language

Learning Somali is an exciting journey into one of the world’s unique and culturally rich languages. Somali is a member of the Lowland East Cushitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family. It is mainly spoken in Somalia but also in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Yemen, and the unrecognized Republic of Somaliland. It is an official language in Somalia and the Somali Region of Ethiopia, a major national language in Djibouti, and a recognized minority language in Kenya. With around 21.8 million speakers worldwide, including about 7.8 million in Somalia, learning Somali opens doors to connecting with many people and understanding a diverse culture.

Somali Language at a Glance

Before diving into learning Somali, it’s helpful to know some basic facts about the language:

  • Native name: Af-Soomaali, 𐒖𐒍 𐒈𐒝𐒑𐒛𐒐𐒘, اَف صَومالي˜ [æ̀f sɔ̀ːmɑ́ːlì]
  • Language family: Afro-Asiatic, Cushitic, Lowland East Cushitic, Macro-Somali, Somali languages, Somali
  • Number of speakers: About 21.8 million
  • Spoken in: Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Yemen, and Somaliland
  • Writing systems: Latin (official), Arabic, Osmanya, Kaddare, and Borama scripts

The History of Written Somali

Somali has been written using various scripts over the centuries, including the Arabic script, the Latin alphabet, and the Borama, Osmanya, and Kaddare alphabets. Today, the official script for Somali is the Latin alphabet.

The Latin Alphabet for Somali

In 1961, both the Latin and Osmanya scripts were adopted for use in Somalia. However, in 1969, after a coup, the Latin alphabet was finally chosen in 1972, making Somali the sole official language of Somalia. This decision aimed to resolve the debate over the country’s writing system. Shire Jama Ahmed is credited with inventing this spelling system, chosen from eighteen competing orthographies.

Sample Text in Somali: “Aadanaha dhammaantiis wuxuu dhashaa isagoo xor ah kana siman xagga sharafta iyo xuquuqada Waxaa Alle (Ilaah) siiyay aqoon iyo wacyi, waana in qof la arkaa qofka kale ula dhaqmaa si walaaltinimo ah.”

Translation: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

Learning Somali for Beginners

Starting with Somali might seem daunting, but with the right resources and approach, it can be a rewarding experience. Here are some steps and tips to help you on your journey:

1. Learn the Alphabet

Begin with the basics: the Somali alphabet. The Latin script is used officially, and understanding how to read and write it is crucial. Practice writing letters, and familiarize yourself with their sounds.

2. Basic Phrases and Vocabulary

Learn some basic Somali phrases and vocabulary. Start with greetings, common expressions, and everyday words. Here are a few to get you started:

  • Hello: Salaam
  • How are you?: Sidee tahay?
  • Thank you: Mahadsanid
  • Yes: Haa
  • No: Maya

3. Grammar Essentials

Somali grammar might be different from what you are used to, but it’s essential to understand the rules. Focus on sentence structure, verb conjugations, and the use of tenses. Simple sentences like “I am learning Somali” (Waan baranayaa af-Soomaali) can help you grasp the basics.

4. Listening and Speaking

Listening to Somali speakers and practicing speaking is vital. Use online resources like YouTube videos, language apps, and podcasts to hear the language in action. Try to mimic the pronunciation and intonation.

5. Practice Regularly

Consistency is key in language learning. Set aside time each day to practice. Whether it’s writing a few sentences, speaking with a friend, or using a language app, regular practice will help you improve steadily.

Resources for Learning Somali

There are numerous resources available to aid your learning:

Online Courses and Apps

  • Rosetta Stone: Offers structured lessons to help you learn Somali step-by-step.
  • Babbel: Another popular app that provides Somali language courses.
  • Pimsleur: Focuses on listening and speaking skills through audio lessons.

Websites and Online Dictionaries

Books and Materials

  • Somali Textbooks: Find books specifically designed for Somali learners.
  • Phrasebooks: Useful for learning common phrases and expressions.
  • Grammar Guides: Detailed books that explain Somali grammar rules.

The Importance of Learning Somali

Learning Somali is not just about mastering a new language; it’s about understanding and appreciating a rich cultural heritage. Somali is a language that connects millions of people across different countries. By learning Somali, you gain insights into the traditions, history, and everyday life of Somali-speaking communities.

Moreover, Somali has a rich oral tradition and literature, which can be fully appreciated by those who understand the language. Whether for personal interest, travel, or connecting with Somali-speaking friends and family, learning Somali opens up a world of opportunities.

Advanced Aspects of Learning Somali Language

In the first part of our guide, we explored the basics of learning Somali, including the alphabet, basic phrases, and grammar essentials. Now, let’s dive deeper into the unique writing systems of Somali, additional learning strategies, and the cultural richness that comes with mastering the language.

Writing Systems of Somali

Somali has a fascinating history of written language, utilizing various scripts over the centuries. Each script offers a glimpse into the rich cultural tapestry of Somali speakers.

The Somali Alphabet

1. Latin Alphabet

As mentioned, the Latin alphabet is the official script for Somali. It is straightforward for those familiar with the Latin alphabet used in English and many other languages. This script was adopted in 1972 and is now the standard for writing Somali.

2. Arabic Script – Wadaad’s Writing

The Arabic script was introduced to Somali in the 13th century to aid Koranic teaching. This script, known as Wadaad’s writing (وَداد), was based on the Maay dialect of Southern Somalia. It underwent several modifications over the centuries, particularly in the 1950s when Somali linguist Muuse Xaaji Ismaaciil Galaal introduced new symbols for vowels.

Sample Text in Arabic Script: صَومالي˜ [æ̀f sɔ̀ːmɑ́ːlì]

3. Osmanya Alphabet

The Osmanya alphabet was developed in the early 20th century by Osman Yusuf Kenadid. This script was an attempt to create a unique Somali writing system, distinct from both the Latin and Arabic scripts. Though it is not widely used today, it remains a significant part of Somali linguistic history.

4. Borama and Kaddare Alphabets

The Borama, also known as the Gadabuursi alphabet, and the Kaddare alphabet are two other writing systems created for Somali. These scripts were efforts by Somali scholars to establish a writing system that suited the phonological characteristics of the Somali language.

Useful Somali Phrases

Learning useful phrases is a practical way to get comfortable with speaking Somali. Here are some phrases that can help you in everyday conversations:

  • Good morning: Subax wanaagsan
  • Good night: Habeen wanaagsan
  • Please: Fadlan
  • Excuse me: Iga raali ahow
  • I’m sorry: Waan ka xumahay
  • What’s your name?: Magacaa?
  • My name is…: Magacaygu waa…
  • Where is the bathroom?: Musqusha xaggee ka jirtaa?
  • I don’t understand: Ma fahmin
  • Can you help me?: Ma i caawin kartaa?

Somali Numbers

Learning numbers in Somali is essential for basic communication, especially when dealing with money, time, and quantities.

  • One: Kow
  • Two: Labo
  • Three: Saddex
  • Four: Afar
  • Five: Shan
  • Six: Lix
  • Seven: Toddoba
  • Eight: Sideed
  • Nine: Sagaal
  • Ten: Toban

Somali Learning Materials

Numerous materials are available to help you learn Somali more effectively. Here are some recommended resources:

Learn Somali Book one


  • “Colloquial Somali” by Martin Orwin: This book offers comprehensive lessons on Somali grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation.
  • “Somali Grammar” by John Saeed: A detailed guide to understanding the complexities of Somali grammar.

Online Resources

  • Digital Dialects: Provides interactive Somali language games to practice vocabulary and phrases.
  • Learn101: Offers free lessons on Somali grammar, phrases, and vocabulary.
  • YouTube: Channels like AfSomali provide videos to help you learn Somali through listening and repetition.

Language Exchange

Engaging with native speakers is one of the best ways to learn a language. Platforms like Tandem and HelloTalk connect you with Somali speakers willing to exchange language lessons. This method not only helps with language skills but also offers cultural insights.

The Cultural Significance of Learning Somali

Learning Somali is more than just mastering a new language; it’s about immersing yourself in a rich cultural heritage. Somali culture is known for its oral traditions, poetry, music, and dance. Understanding the language allows you to appreciate Somali literature and folklore more deeply.

Oral Tradition and Poetry

Somali poetry is a central aspect of the culture, with poets highly revered in society. The language’s rich vocabulary and expressive capacity make it ideal for poetic expression. By learning Somali, you can access a vast body of poetry that reflects the history, struggles, and aspirations of the Somali people.

Music and Dance

Somali music is characterized by its unique rhythms and instruments. Traditional songs often accompany important events such as weddings, celebrations, and religious ceremonies. Learning Somali helps you understand the lyrics and the cultural context of the music.

Additional Tips for Learning Somali

1. Set Realistic Goals

Set achievable goals for your learning journey. Whether it’s learning a certain number of words each week or being able to hold a basic conversation, clear goals help you stay motivated and track your progress.

2. Use Technology

Take advantage of language learning apps and online resources. Apps like Memrise and Anki can help you build vocabulary through spaced repetition.

3. Join a Community

Find a community of Somali language learners or native speakers. Online forums, social media groups, and local cultural organizations can provide support and opportunities for practice.

4. Immerse Yourself

Immerse yourself in the language as much as possible. Watch Somali films, listen to Somali radio stations, and read Somali books or news articles. Immersion helps reinforce what you’ve learned and improves your listening and comprehension skills.


Learning Somali is a journey that offers numerous rewards. From understanding a rich cultural heritage to connecting with millions of Somali speakers worldwide, mastering this language is a valuable and enriching experience. By starting with the basics, utilizing available resources, and immersing yourself in the culture, you can make significant progress in learning Somali. Remember to practice regularly, stay motivated, and enjoy the process of discovering this beautiful language.

By following the steps and tips outlined in this guide, you’ll be well on your way to becoming proficient in Somali. Whether you’re learning for personal interest, travel, or to connect with Somali-speaking friends and family, the journey will undoubtedly be a rewarding one. Happy learning!

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