My Journey to Learning Amharic

This post is contributed by Lynn Steinberg, Marketing Director for Roots Ethiopia.


Last year I met Meseker, a woman in Ethiopia who sells livestock at her local market. She is the recipient of a small business grant (IGA) through Roots Ethiopia and is now able to send her children to school and pay her own rent. When we met, I said a few basic Amharic greetings and her face lit up. She grabbed my hands in hers, smiled, looked me directly in the eyes, and began to tell me her incredible story. At that moment, I knew that the key to connecting with women in Ethiopia was to learn their language. It is the ultimate bridge to connection and trust, especially with women who are often shy and reluctant to share their struggles. This is the mighty Meseker:


So, what did I do? I signed up for a 10-week summer Skype course and kept a journal of my often erratic feelings:

Week 1
Holy sh*T! What did I sign up for? You have to be a language scholar to understand this alphabet. This has to be harder than learning Chinese. I need an art degree to write these characters. Why exactly would I need to know the Fidel? Hmmmm…Maybe I will see it written on some paperwork on a site visit. The truth is as of now it would take me 15 minutes to decode one character. This is not Amharic 101.


Week 4
The alphabet is clicking thanks to the Ha-Hu Puzzle App. How can I speak if I don’t learn my Fidel? Learning the Fidel will ensure that I am pronouncing my words correctly-ish. Kids learn their letters and sounds first, so shall I!

I wish I could skip to “Can I have two coffees and some beef tibs?” I’ve been studying two hours per day including a 10-minute session with my kids. They are so annoying! They learn the vocabulary so easily. I wonder why I need to know the word woodpecker? Really? Will I ever need to use the word woodpecker in Ethiopia?

Week 6
I can seriously read Amharic. I know all 231 characters by heart and I can sound out basically any sentence! Do I know what I am reading or what the words mean? Heck no, but I equate this to when my kids were in Montessori School and learned all the English sounds. They could technically read but had no idea what they were reading. Also, I have built my vocabulary up to way over 100 words. This is exciting!

Week 10
Holy moly, I just read this to my teacher Zodi via Skype! 

“Simey Lynn new. Chapel Hill, Semen Karolina enoralehu.

yeney ayn semayawi new na tsegurey bunama new. sost seyt lijoch aleng. yeney seytoch lijoch sem izzy, kiki, na mitike, new. ye bale simeh mike new. yeney bale esporte yewodal. yeney bale sira yewodal. eney buna betam ewedelahu. eney sira betam ewedelahu.

betam tedestku

behamus Virgina emetaehu. beteqmt Ethiopia yeney betoseb ymetal.”

And I can write in the Fidel as well!

ሲመይ ልይን ነው.
Simey Lynn new.
My name is Lynn

Should you take this course? Drumroll…Yes, take this course! You will love it if you are a nerd like me! Things to consider:

Learning a language, especially Amharic, is a long-term commitment. Don’t expect miracles, but do expect to graduate from the course feeling pretty good about yourself.

Be kind to yourself. Zodi will remind you that your sentences don’t need to be perfect nor does your pronunciation.

You need to put lots of work into this course during the week. Like anything else, if you slack, you won’t learn anything.

Recruit a local Amharic speaker to practice your vocabulary and simple sentences.

Be nice to others who are learning. There are various ways to pronounce the same words. It is all good. We are all in this together. Don’t be the Amharic police. I am guilty of this!

Contact me! I would love to practice via Skype if you sign up for this course. I really want to start an online Amharic club and will do so once I have 4 others who are interested in weekly Skype practice.

Here is the info on how to sign up and please tell Zodi that I sent you!

Roots Ethiopia is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization working in Africa, specifically helping Southern Ethiopia. Roots Ethiopia supports community identified solutions for job creation and education.

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