Keeping Elvie Connected to Culture Through Language

As I wrote in my last post, we feel it is important to keep our daughters connected to their birth culture. Food is my very favorite way, but there are other things we do as well, and one of those things is to use Amharic words in everyday life. Ethiopia has myriad languages and dialects, and each of our daughters’ families speaks a different one, but Amharic is the national language of Ethiopia, and it is a very good place to start.

We have just begun to teach Elvie some words and phrases in Amharic; as she grows, we’d like to branch out more and revive some of the Amharic we knew well and used with Zinashi when she first joined our family. For now, though, there are 12 words and phrases that we are starting with, that we use every day.

  • Selam


    Selam means peace, and it is an informal greeting.

  • Amesehgenalehu


    Amesehgenalehu is a long word and can be hard for little mouths to speak at first, but is an important one: it means thank you.

  • Ishi


    Ishi means okay, and is used to simply say okay, but is also commonly used when soothing children, just like we sometimes soothe a child by saying, “It’s okay,” or “You’re okay.”

  • Gobez


    Gobez means good job, and we have lots of reasons to use it. It is praise, and it is encouraging.

  • Buna


    Buna means coffee. Coffee is a very important part of Ethiopian culture, and a very important part of starting my day. I have Ethiopian buna every morning, and both my children know the word. When we go to a coffee shop, even though they aren’t technically drinking coffee, we all get some buna.

  • Dabo


    Dabo means bread, and it is fun to say. We get a lot of practice saying this when we eat it, and even when we’re not eating it. Like I said, it’s fun to say.

  • Wuha


    Wuha means water, and Elvie gets wuha offered to her at every meal, not to mention in between.

  • Wutet


    Wutet is milk. Elvie still doesn’t like any kind of milk other than formula, so I call her formula wutet.

  • Demit


    A demit is a cat, and we have three, so there’s plenty of opportunity to use this word.

  • Wusha


    Wusha means dog, and we see a LOT of wushas on our walks around our neighborhood.

  • Konjo


    Both of my girls are konjo, for konjo means beautiful.

  • Awedishalehu


    Awedishalehu is the most important phrase of all in our family. It means I love you. Both my girls may have trouble pronouncing it, but they will hear it over and over again from me, and someday they’ll remember all those syllables and be able to say it, too.

    This is the feminine form; if addressing a boy, it is awedihalehu.

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