Ethiopia · Language

The English Language in Ethiopia

Although my mother tongue is Harari, a lot of people tell me, from reading my blogs, that they think English is my mother tongue. The kind of English exposure you have in your life is what sticks to your brain. I was introduced to it at an early age of 4 when I went to New York for six months when my nephew, Sammy was born. Of course all I did was watch Barney and Friends daily. That accent is what stuck to me like glue, never shifted one way or another. Afterwards, English came easy to me as Amharic was easy to the average Ethiopian. I was always the English teacher’s pet, and got made fun of by the students for it my whole life. I finally got the opportunity to go to high school in New York, which definitely shaped me well for five years straight.
But New York was just extra. Most Ethiopians I know, especially my beautiful friend, have really great English, along with the great accent. Ethiopia is transforming along with its schools when it comes to the English language. All of the young kids right now are communicating in English. Also, thank goodness for satellite dish for the many English filled channels with the latest American shows to keep Ethiopians updated with the language and accent.
However, other Ethiopians attempt to translate their Amharic right into English which comes out absolutely wrong. I mean, I understand that you are making an effort and I applaud you for it, but please, get some training or just stick to the mother tongue. There is definitely nothing wrong with expressing yourself with the language you know best and I think that is what you all should do.
I was reading the October 2010 issue of What’s Out Addis and just cracked up laughing on their “20 words Ethiopian people shouldn’t try to translate to English”, (which I think should be “20 PHRASES….” But hey, this is Ethiopia. Shhhh) So, I picked my 5 absolute favorites; hope you laugh as much as I did. 🙂

1.       You boy, don’t make me turn off your eye! (Ante lij, aynehen endalatefaw!) (It’s basically a warning, like “hey, don’t make me come get you, but it is saying, don’t make me take out your eye.//Deep. lol)

2.        Powerful head hitting has held me. (Haylegna ras metat yazegn.) (I’ve got a powerful headache)

3.        By your mother please shoot my shirt. (Benateh, shemizen tekuselegn.) (Please iron my shirt)

4.       Standing up from the ground, he wanted me matter. (Kemeret tenesto, neger felegegn) (He picked a flight with me out of nowhere.)

5.       I hope death doesn’t take me before I eat your wedding. (Sergeshen salbela, mechem almut) (I hope I don’t die before I see you get married)


8 thoughts on “The English Language in Ethiopia

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