Learning Afaan Oromo

Not too long ago, I first learned there’s a language called Afaan Oromo (or Oromiffa). Soon after that, I found out we were supposed to learn that language. It was obviously because of my lack of knowledge that I had never heard about it before. For it’s the most widely spoken language in Ethiopia with over one third of the population of over 100 million inhabitants speaking it. Besides, Afaan Oromo is the fourth most widely spoken language in Africa, after Arabic, Hausa and Swahili. Compare these figures with my mother tongue, Finnish, which has only some five million speakers. Quite a niche, isn’t it!

At the moment, our main responsibility is to study the language and get to know the culture. The method used in the language school is different from what I’m used to from before. At least at the beginning, the point is just to listen to the teacher who is repeating words and showing me the corresponding pictures or objects or asking me to point the right ones instead. In the past few days she’s also started to ask me to pronounce the words myself. Homework consists of listening repetitively to the recordings I make during the lessons.

This seems to be an effective method, since it’s only been three weeks and we can already communicate with our housekeeper, Mimi, who doesn’t speak any English. And it’s a lot of fun, almost like a game.

I find it fascinating to delve into this new language. Or actually, it’s not just a language, for it goes together with a package of history and culture. Let me give you an example. My teacher frequently says, “the old generation says X, but the new generation says Y”. Oromo is constantly evolving. Before, many words were borrowed from Amharic or English, but now the ethnic Oromo people prefer to use their own language, creating new words whenever needed. Besides, there are many dialects, which is why our teachers rotate, so we don’t stick to just one way of speaking. Although an effort is being made to unify the language by coming up with standardised expressions, it’s still a vast and versatile language. Even my teacher who is both a professional and a native speaker of Afaan Oromo might not know all the new words that can be found in my dictionary app.

I think it’s important to try and learn the local language, whenever possible. As we are planning to live amongst the Oromo people, I consider it respectful to try and learn the language. Yet, these days, so many people are fluent in English that it’s become seemingly less crucial to make that effort. (At the same time I definitely consider English to be an extremely important language – if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be writing this in English!) However, when my German dad moved to Finland in the early seventies, there was no way for him to avoid learning Finnish. And he did really well, especially considering how hard a language it is. Speaking the language allowed him to integrate to the society and have Finnish friends. Yet, until the end, he kept his German accent as well as some not-so-Finnish habits such as speaking with a relatively loud voice to strangers. An adorable person he was.

Learning a language and a culture definitely takes a huge effort, but I believe it’s worth it. It’s a way of building bridges and learning new points of view. I’d like to encourage you to take up the challenge as well.

To conclude, the following passage popped up as I opened my Bible app this morning. I’d like to share it with you here, because I think it reminds us of the most noble use of any language: praising our triune God through Jesus Christ, the Lamb.
After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting with a great roar,

“Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne
and from the Lamb!”

(Revelation 7:9-10)

Here are some pictures from my language classes with Mrs. Suratu this week & my husband listening to the recordings.

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