Salambo in Addis

Salambo discovering Ethiopia

Learning Amharic

I attended my second lesson of Amharic yesterday, which made me feel like a six year child again who is learning to read and write! Everything in Amharic is different from the Latin-based languages I know: the construction of a sentence as well as the alphabet, made of very distinctive signs. My personal motivation was somewhat limited at first, as it is very easy to get by in Addis speaking English only. Most people here have enough knowledge of it to be able to communicate on a basic level. So why learn a new tongue that is spoken only in Ethiopia when our stay is temporary, I was asking myself.  The main reason was intellectual curiosity as well as a reminiscence of my school and college days, when I was brainwashed to think that I couldn’t go to a country without first trying to learn the idiom.  So I half-heartedly enrolled in  the beginners Amharic class at the Alliance franco-ethiopienne, the only class I found for foreigners (the majority of the students are French, by the way). Initially, I was a little bored with the repetitiveness of the lesson. In Amharic, the initial salutations are important and therefore take a bit of time in the conversation. So we had to learn how to say hello to a man, to a woman, to a single person using the polite form, and to a group, that for the different times of the day: morning, afternoon, evening and night. So, “how are you” to a man is ïndämïn näh and to a woman ïndämïn näš (in phonetics), and so on for all the different situations.

Coca-Cola in Amharic

I got really interested though when we started reading the alphabet. Suddenly a new world of signs with their own meaning and logic, opened up. I find it fascinating to learn a new way of writing. Amharic is an ancient semitic language, similarly to Arabic, Hebrew and Amaraic, written using the Ge’ez alphabet, a system of phonetic signs. However, unlike Arabic, it is read from left to right, like European languages. Each consonant is represented by a different sign, and the syllable is formed by making a small addition to the root sign.

So for now, I have to practice my writing, just like a child by forming letters over and over again until I remember them! I don’t know if I’ll ever reach some fluency in the language, I first need to work on my own motivation towards it. That said, what I find the most useful part of the lesson  is the numbers. I use them every day, mainly when buying things in shops and markets, and for asking or discussing prices. Crucial knowledge!!

5 comments on “Learning Amharic

  1. Safia
    December 21, 2012

    Hi there, may I ask where you’re studying Amharic? I’m learning Amharic now and considering spending the summer in intensive study in Ethiopia.

    • Salambo
      December 21, 2012

      Hi there….there are many Amharic courses organised in the city, but the quality may vary…..I took a class at the Alliance ethio-française, but it is not intensive..maybe the University of Addis Ababa is offering courses…I’ll let you know if I hear of anything 🙂

      • Safia
        December 21, 2012

        Thanks! I’ve heard of the Alliance offering courses but couldn’t find any info on their site. Would you recommend their classes? I was also told of the Laleo Language Centre offering Amharic courses, so I will look into that too. When I do visit (either this summer or next), I plan to supplement courses with private instruction to benefit the most from my time in Ethiopia!

      • Carolyn
        February 1, 2013

        I’m also looking into taking Amharic classes in Addis. Looking for something intensive but not expensive. Any suggestions of centers I can look into?

      • Salambo
        February 4, 2013

        Hi Carolyn,

        There are several places which teach amharic to foreigners, but I couldn’t recommend one or another. I went to the Alliance Ethio-française, but they only have classes once a week which is not enough at the beginning..The best way is to try them around if you are in Addis…Sorry, can’t help more

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


This entry was posted on November 4, 2011 by in Addis at first sight and tagged , , , , , .

Previous posts


November 2011
Life Tales

A Collective of Women Writing about Real Life

Parse The Noise

Sorting Truth from Lies


all about Rome

libri e arte

leggere guardare pensare

%d bloggers like this: