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The Maine Humanities Council Newsletter ~ Fall 2001 ~ p. 3
Back to School
(cover page)

A Pitcher, Some Milk

Somali Alphabet

4 and 5
Wes McNair
at Drury Pond

Born to Read

Teaching Beowulf

Extra Information

'Jalaato' is Ice Cream: A Somali Alphabet for Maine

The 3,000 Somalis refugees who have settled in Maine - decorated handand their children who have grown up here - face the double challenge of learning to read and write English while preserving a sense of their own rich culture and language. With that in mind, the Maine Humanities Council was a major funder of a A Somali Alphabet /Alfabeetadda Soomaaliyeed, a bilingual primer that illustrates each letter of the Somali alphabet with a word characteristic of Somali life.

From B for Babaay (papaya) - the alphabet follows the Arabic order - to U for Uunsi (incense), the paperback book includes explanatory texts in both English and Somali. Written by Nadifo Ayanle and illustrated by Melissa Girardin, the primer should appeal to a variety of audiences. These include adult Somalis learning to read English, English-speaking Mainers interested in learning about Somali life, and young Somalis whose rapid Americanization means they may have lost some links with their traditional Islamic culture, including its language.


The book is produced by the African Women's Literacy Project, part of the programming of Portland Adult Education. Through the project, Somali mothers with babies or toddlers receive tutoring in their homes. Storytelling is used both to explore and celebrate Somali culture and to provide a basis for English instruction.

One of these talented storytellers is Nadifo Ayanle, who was driven from her home in Moqadisho by the Somali civil war and arrived in Portland in 1993 through a refugee resettlement program. The mother of two pre- school children, she learned English at home. One of her teachers, Joy Ahrens, persuaded her to link her stories and memories of Somalia with the letters of her native alphabet.

Cilaan is henna

"You can do so much teaching through a story," says Ahrens, who edited the book that resulted. "It makes a real difference in the speed in which you can pick up a new language."

Ayanle's Somali Alphabet is designed as "a tool for teaching adults English," according to Ahrens, but it is also a fascinating glimpse into another culture. Copies will be available in Portland's 18 public schools and its libraries; they can also be purchased, at $7 each, from Portland Adult Education, 57 Douglass St., Portland, ME 04102. A second volume, a bilingual collection of folk stories, will appear later this fall.

Illustrations by Melissa Girardin


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