Learning Afan Oromo

I have mentioned it many times throughout my blog, but I want to go a little more in depth about the language I am learning.

I am very proud to say last week when I had a meeting in the capital, Addis Abbaba, I scored an Intermediate-High on my language proficiency. I still have a long way to go but am proud of the progress I’ve made.

Afan Oromo or Oromifa is the most spoken Kushidic (Not sure exactly what this means, google it) language. Spoken by 35 million people in Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan. Mostly in Ethiopia in the Oromia region, also the most populated region in Ethiopia.

It was not a written language until the mid 1990’s. That leads to examples like my counterpart Geniti who literally could not write the language he spoke until 12 years of age. It is written with Latin characters, like English, and unlike the national language Amharic, written in fidel. Peace Corps members the Amhara and Southern Nations regions not only have to learn a new language but a new alphabet too.

Afan Oromo does not use articles. A, the, an are nonexistent. For example, to say “the book is good.” In Afan Oromo would be “kitaaba garita dha.” It makes it easy to learn Afan Oromo but extremely difficult to teach articles to Ethiopian students. They don’t make sense to them, and when I try to explain why we use them, it doesn’t make much sense to me either.

Often times when explaining English I come to a point where I ponder for a minute staring at the heavens for a divine intervention then shrug my shoulders and say that’s just the way it is.

Sentence structure is much different that English too. Adjectives are after nouns, pronouns vary based on whether they are the subject or object and the verb is always last. The verb is always last. The verb is always last. It’s very difficult to think in English and put the verb last.

It’s against everything I knew.

But, with time, I have filtered my thinking. For example to say “I read books” Would be “Ani (I) kitabboota (books) dubbisa (read).” I books read.

If there are two verbs the infinitive verb goes second to last followed by the other verb. I love to look at the stars would directly translate to I stars look love.

There are exceptions and I’m not exactly fluent but that’s the gist.

The language has a few quirks and nuances. For example commands are very common and not taken personally.

On a bus if I had my bag slid under the seat in front of me I’d say something to the effect of excuse me can you please pass me my bag.

In Afan Oromo it’d be give me the bag. Or, the word for best and clothes is the same, wayya.

Learning any new language is a challenge and always worth it. 

One thought on “Learning Afan Oromo

  1. So interesting and so thought provoking. It looks like to me that the challenge and the outcome is unexpected and different on both sides – students and teacher – yet also the same. You want them to do well, and they want to please you and do well. Each has limited capacity both to learn and to please – yet both have life changing experiences. What a beautiful thing.


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