Week 15 of Loving Somali: Kirismas farxad-badan iyo Sanadka Cusub

Bilingual picture book and CD with folktales, English-Somali
Bilingual picture book and CD with folktales, English-Somali

With the holidays coming and work becoming busy, I find less time to study Somali. The only way I’m able to blog is in between house chores to prepare for guests and at the store while my family shops. I’m very grateful that my Somali teacher greeted me with the above line, “Very happy Christmas and New Year!” which I found perfect for right now. When I look for them, I find ways to keep the dream alive.

Practical Somali

I especially like language resources that focus on daily life, not on tourism. Language books that focus on tourism don’t make much sense to me. I need to use my language at home, getting through daily life, not asking about train time-tables. A useful language book has to enable me to connect to people, whether at home or away.

Last week I went to the library in Minneapolis, an area of town with more Somalis, and found some cool resources to supplement my Somali. I found a couple of bilingual Somali-English picture books for kids. The translations do not translate word-for-word but according to the general meaning, which makes vocabulary a little difficult. Since I know the overall thought, though, I can quickly isolate the words I don’t know.

I also found a CD of Somali folk tales, told in English and Somali. That way, I can understand the gist of the story before I hear the Somali, so I can figure out the most common words. Since excellent story-tellers (both men and women) narrate, their tempo and expressiveness make understanding even better. A CD helps because I can listen in the car. The Minnesota Humanities Council produced the CD, so now I want to see what else they have produced. (If you would like to support this sort of work, please consider a donation by clicking here.)

These resources help me because of their holistic educational viewpoint. Since they are for children, the complexity of grammar is nearly the same level as an adult, and the vocabulary is specialized for either day-to-day life (going to school, etc.) or for traditional life. Adult language books focus on tourism, which interests me the least.

Here’s what I need a book to teach me for life in Minnesota. How to:

  • basic greetings and introductions;
  • interact with a cashier;
  • explain why I know Somali;
  • talk about the weather (very common in Minnesota);
  • order at a Somali restaurant and talk about favorite foods;
  • discuss job roles (especially helpful at work);
  • describe family, both immediate and extended;
  • learn about the political situation in Somalia;
  • compare daily schedules.

This would be my “Level One” book. “Level Two” would probably have more about daily life, such as jobs, or life back in the old country. “Level Three” would introduce folktales and genres of poetry. All would use the great technique of the folk-tale CDs: regular Somali, not overly complicated, read at a clear, slow pace, by men and women.

I know that I don’t want to learn touristy things like directions for going to the museum or for getting through customs. (I needed to ask where the bathroom was, though, in a Somali restaurant. That’s as close as I’ve gotten to “touristy stuff” in Somali.)

What do you use your language for? Have you found materials that work well for you? What are they

Keeping the dream alive

Work has been a surprisingly wonderful resource for language-practice for me. On Friday morning, I spoke with the parking lot attendant and experienced the longest Amharic discussion in my life. Granted, it lasted about two minutes (there were other cars in line), but when the gentleman answered my Amharic questions with full Amharic answers, I was flattered and overwhelmed. (To understand why, see my previous post, “Week 13 of Loving Somali: Am I my brother’s teacher?”)

Later that evening, I discovered a “cache” of German-speakers at work. There are three people at my office who were raised in Minnesota since early childhood, but spoke German at home growing up, and another person who grew up around German but not speaking it that much. One described going to school for the first time and being the “weird German kid” who couldn’t speak English. They’ll be joining us at the biweekly German table.

That bilingual folks are hiding in plain sight shocked me. I wonder how many more are around me?

Did you discover bilingual folks around you? What language(s) did they speak?


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