Australia leads the way with world’s first free Somali-English dictionary app

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July 24, 2013 By Abderazzaq Noor

Nadia Faragaab

There seems to be an app for almost everything, but surprisingly there is no Somali-English language dictionary app. It was, therefore, wonderful to learn that the Australian-Somali community in Melbourne is quietly working on a free app – a refreshingly good news story about Somalis in a world that is used to hearing about the wars, pirates, and droughts that besiege our beloved country.

The Somali-English dictionary is the brainchild of Nadia Faragaab, an intrepid young Somali woman who has collated more than 25,000 words from the community in Melbourne. Nadia is working with the University of Melbourne who are assisting in the development of the application.

“There are many online Somali-English dictionaries, but we don’t have an app and that would be useful as everyone seems to live their lives through their apps these days,” says Nadia.

The Somali language is an Afro-Asiatic language spoken by more than 15 million people. The majority of Somali speakers live in Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya. There are also about 1.5 million Somali living in the diaspora. Somalia, known as the nation of poets because of its population’s excessive love of poetry and oral communication, formalised the language in the written form in 1972. It uses the Latin script.

It is not surprising that an initiative such as the Somali-English dictionary app has originated in a western country. Many young Somalis living in the diaspora speak little or no Somali. It is not difficult to envisage a scary future where Somalis don’t speak any Somali at all. You could say the future is already here! It is in this context that a free and technologically appropriate tool like the Somali-English dictionary app could play an immense role in keeping the language alive for many more generations of Somali immigrants.

Like in many African cultures, the community undertakes socialisation of the Somali child with children learning the language from peers, relatives and neighbours. By the time the child’s speech is fully developed, they are usually fluent in Somali. Unfortunately, this social process has been weakened among the Somalis as a result of living in the diaspora. Increasingly, it is the kindergarten and the school that shape English, Swedish or Dutch as the Somali child’s main language. Somali usually gets lost along the way and with some Somali parents not being fluent in their new western language; it is common to encounter situations where the child and the parent can’t communicate effectively.

It is widely acknowledged that language is intrinsically linked with identity. This is particularly so with Somalis who recognise that the language informs the culture and therefore the identity. In Australia, like in many other western countries, the Somali identity is evolving with young Somalis grappling with the challenge of merging their Somali and Australian identities into something meaningful. This is why Nadia chose to create awareness of the first Somali-English dictionary app using a cultural festival. The one-day event, titled So’maal, celebrated the best of Somali-Australian culture and featured workshops and performances, including poetry, fashion, food and live music.

“I wanted the event to showcase the on-going work on the Somali-English dictionary app and raise funds to support its development. I thought the best way to go about this was to hold a festival that would be a unique, creative space to express what it means to be an Australian-Somali. It’s about saying to young people that you are Australian and Somali, your lifestyle and your culture can be richer because of the other.”

The Somali-English dictionary app will certainly go a long way towards facilitating the learning of the Somali language, help us double-check the meaning of a word, check spelling, find the right word to use or learn new words.

Here is to a future where all young Somalis can speak their language and each Somali has a download of the must have app – the Somali-English dictionary app.

To find out more about the first free Somali-English dictionary app and how you can support it, visit

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