How to Speak Somali Without Saying a Word

I’m not Somali, I’m a Somali-language learner. I relied heavily on Colloquial Somali in my early years. I’m bound to make mistakes in the following post. Please feel free to correct me but no internet-haters, okay? I promise I won’t come around your blog and tell you what a terrible person you must be if you make an English mistake or cultural error, okay? Deal? Also, remember I started learning Somali in Somaliland and have continued in Djibouti so I speak a mix. Anyway, here goes…

Somali is a lively, vibrant, guttural language with loads of gestures. Before I studied it, it seemed like every group of Somalis I saw speaking together were on the verge of a brawl. Probably they were just talking about tea or camels or football. One of my favorite things about Somali is that it is a great language to get angry in. The forceful sounds and exaggerated hand movements are perfect for when this timid introvert loses her temper.

Once I was, rightfully, upset. I started to explain my situation in English but the English-speaking staff where I was didn’t get it. I switched to French and they began to sense my frustration. But it was only when I turned on the full throttle Somali that they grasped the true nature of my anger and did something to improve things.

Speak Somali without saying a word…


Using one finger, like in America, is how you call a dog. Point your palm down, fingers open, then cup your fingers closed – not in a fist – with the thumb outside the fingers.



Necessary/required/you have to

Push the side of the nose with one finger. My arm probably shouldn’t be out so far to the side but the kids were getting tired of taking pictures so I kept it.


Qasab/you have to


Over there

Point with either chin or tongue


waa kaa/there it is



Touch thumb and fingers and shake it slightly back and forth




Full (or a lot or crowded or packed)

Hold the hand in a fist with the thumb out and brush the thumb under the chin, flicking it out


buux/full (as corrected by Liiban, thanks!)


This is an insult men give to women. ‘Nuf said.

Instead of taking a new shot without the hair in my face, I left it in. That’s how this one makes me feel – frizzy.




Touch the temple with the index finger, all other fingers splayed open, and twist the hand at the same time as pulling it away from the forehead.




Don’t you dare

Grab the lobe of one ear between the thumb and space between the first two knuckles of the index finger and shake it. The Somali word for this sort of sounds like what a pirate might say. Argh. The ‘c’ is an ayn, not at all related to the English ‘c’.


car/don’t you dare



I’m never good at this and all my Somali-smile pictures have a goofy upturn on one side of my lips

We are all thrilled, for reals, to be at this wedding

If you are learning a new language, don’t forget about the non-verbals.

What are some gestures your language uses?