Literacy, Friendship, and the Somali Language

“Kani waa miis.” Participants listen to their Somali ‘language guide’ and select the miniature table from the toys in front of them. “Kani waa kursi.” Again they listen and select the doll chair. “Kursiga miiska dinacisa dhig.” Participants place the chair beside the table, as directed by their language guide.

Mahmud was one of 5 ‘language guides’ who helped us learn Somali language at our most recent training.

For four days in early February, participants used hands-on activities involving dollhouse furniture, Total Physical Response, and even colored candy to understand the Somali language during the “Four Dimensional Language Learning” course hosted by Somali Adult Literacy Training in partnership with Professionals Global.

All wanted to build closer relationships with their neighbors.
Participants had various motivations for learning Somali. Some are current SALT tutors hoping to better communicate with their students. Others are teachers, social workers, building contractors, retired workers, and neighbors who encounter Somalis in their daily life. All wanted to build closer relationships with their neighbors, a desire at the heart of SALT’s mission: to obey Jesus’ great commandment, to love our neighbors, which we do through literacy and friendship. Our Somali language guides shared with us that Islam also teaches “you are not a true believer unless you take care of you neighbor.” In Islamic tradition, your neighbor is anyone who lives within 40 doors from your house. We laughed together thinking about how many neighbors’ cars might be stuck in the snow within a 40 door radius. It’s time to get our shovels out and get busy!

We learned that obeying Jesus means following his example of humility, too. Our Somali neighbors have come half-way around the world, entered a new culture, and learned our customs as ‘foreigners’ in a new land. Language-learning is just one way we can prayerfully enter into their world with a humble posture. We also learned that humility involves discovering and affirming those aspects of each other’s faith that we should respect and obey.

when we learn their language, we, like Jesus, are willing to take a new posture.
During the course, a devotion on Philippians 2 reminded us that Jesus “made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” (v. 7, NIV). Our knowledge of English and American culture offers us a position of power and advantage over our immigrant neighbors. However, when we learn their language, we, like Jesus, are willing to take a new posture. We learn to enter their world as a child does, speaking in broken phrases, listening, and even playing with toys.

Melissa Hassman, SALT Outreach Developer, Somali Adult Literacy Training


SALT is a growing network of volunteer tutors who meet weekly with Somali families throughout the Twin Cities, St. Cloud and Willmar. Recently we have seen exciting expansions, growing to over 200 active volunteers and open doors to expand our services in the Midway of St. Paul, Burnsville, and New Brighton. It is a privilege to grow in mutual friendship with our Somali neighbors as we seek to meet their practical needs of English and literacy.

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