Entrepreneurship Semester 8

Online Business

Paulo Santos

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Somali and English: Some Differences and the Implications for Writing Tutors and Instructors


Introduction to the Somali Language for Writing Tutors

This short article delves into the intricacies of the Somali language, highlighting its distinct differences from English, especially in the context of writing.

Writing tutors are trained not just to correct but also to identify patterns and prioritize broader writing elements over specific grammar details. The aim is to nurture better writers rather than perfect pieces of writing. Yet, grammar, especially for English Language Learners (ELLs), remains crucial. As ELLs become proficient, they are less likely to superimpose their native language’s grammatical structure onto English, but grammar remains a significant challenge for many.

The objective of this short essay is twofold: enhancing the understanding of Somali language among college writing tutors and offering them guidance for assisting Somali students. This paper covers an introduction to the Somali language, underlines the major disparities between Somali and English, and provides recommendations for tutoring, emphasizing the use of mini-lessons.

An excerpt from a BBC news article in Somali is contrasted with its English version, revealing the distinct syntactical order of Somali. Somali, a member of the Cushitic language family, is spoken by an estimated 13-25 million people, primarily in the Horn of Africa. It has multiple dialects, with Northern being the most prestigious and widely used. The language has borrowed words from Arabic, English, French, and Italian. The Roman alphabet was adopted for Somali in 1972. The basic clause structure of Somali is subject-object-verb, but it is more fluid than English. Moreover, Somali has unique linguistic features, like using marker words to indicate the focus of a sentence and being tonal in nature.

Somali-English Differences and Tutoring Implications

This paper provides tables that shed light on the disparities between Somali and English in terms of alphabets, nouns, verbs, prepositions, and pronouns. Abdiasis Hirsi, an ESL teacher and the founder of the Lightbulb Community Learning Center in Minneapolis, believes that mini-lessons in basic English grammar can benefit Somali college students, especially those who come from refugee backgrounds and might not have had a conventional educational journey.

Key differences include the absence of letters p, v, and z in Somali, the treatment of nouns, the lack of direct translations for third-person object pronouns in Somali, and the unique way Somali handles prepositions. Tutors can use various techniques, from timelines to visual aids, to help students understand these differences.


To effectively assist Somali students, college-level writing teachers should familiarize themselves with the nuances of the Somali language. When tutors encounter repetitive grammatical or syntax errors, they should encourage students to reflect on their native language structure. By complementing this shared reflection with focused mini-lessons on grammar or writing, tutors can significantly enhance the writing skills of their students, aligning with the ultimate goal of producing better writers.

Thank you (Mahadsanid) and goodbye (Nabad gelyo).