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The language

Somali is an Afro-Asiatic language spoken in Somalia, Somaliland, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Yemen and Kenya. Somali speakers can also be found in the Middle East, North America and Europe.

The dialects

There are three main dialect groups: Northern Somali, Benaadir and Af-Ashraaf. Northern Somali is the basis for standard Somali. Benaadir is spoken on the Benadir coast and in Mogadishu, the capital. Af-Ashraaf is the third distinct variety which cannot always be understood by speakers of standard Somali.

The script

In the past, different scripts have been used to write Somali but it is now written with a Latin script.


When translating from Somali to English, the word count can either increase or decrease, depending on the source text. For instance, Somali does not have equivalent translations for some scientific terms so an explanation is required in Somali where one word is sufficient in English.

Somali culture

Many Somalis are herders, fishermen and farmers who lead a nomadic or semi-nomadic lifestyle. Nomadic herders spend most of their days outdoors and set up camp as they travel. This nomadic tradition has made camel, sheep and cattle very important animals in Somalia. For comfort in Somalia’s warm weather, Somali women tend to wear a colourful long dress called a baati and cover their hair with a scarf. Men wear a long, loose over-shirt called a khamiis. A staple food in Somalia is canjero, pancake-like bread, which is often eaten for breakfast, but can also be eaten in many different ways with both savoury and sweet foods. Well-known figures of Somali descent include the model Iman, the musician K’naan, and the athlete Mo Farah.