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Asmara (Asmera)
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Massawa (Massauwa)
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Languages in Eritrea


There are nine languages in Eritrea. Tigrinya (50%) and Arabic are the working languages. The other languages are Tigre (40%), Afar (4%), Saho (3%), Bega (Beja), Bilen, Nara and Kunama. English and Italian are also widely understood.


The languages of Eritrea


There is no official language, though Tigrinya, Arabic and English predominate in commerce and national business. The use and development of all nine of Eritrea's languages are encouraged at the local level, and children attend primary school through the fifth grade in their mother tongue.

Toward the end of the nineteenth century, hundreds of thousands of Italian peasants settled in Eritrea. Some 70.000 remained in Eritrea at the end of the Italian colonial rule in 1941. Many, mainly older Eritreans therefore speak Italian.

Under the British administration, there were in effect two official languages, Tigrinya and Arabic.

During the years of the Ethiopian occupation, Amharic, the language of the ruling Ethiopian regime, was made the official language, and Eritrean languages were banned. But most Eritreans refused to speak Amharic. Instead, they continued to teach their native languages to their children.

English is now the language of instruction in secondary schools and in the University of Asmara and is fast becoming the foreign language of choice.

The policy of the Eritrean government is for all elementary education to be carried out in the language of the area.




The Tigrinya characters

The Tigrinya characters

Tigrinya, spoken by at least half the population, has its own script derived from the ancient language Gee ’ez, now only used in the Orthodox Church. The script has over 200 characters, each representing a different sound (see below). While our alphabet states a, b, c and so on, Tigrinya has its own character for ba, be, bi, bo and so on, which are mutants of the basic character. Tigrinya word endings vary according to the gender of the person you are speaking to. It is by any standards a very difficult language to learn.

If you know a few words of Tigrinya, you'll amaze and delight the Eritreans and quickly win friends.



Tigrinya - cardinal numbers
0 Bado
1 Hade
2 Kilite
3 Seleste
4 Arba'ate
5 Hamushte
6 Shedushte
7 Show'ate
8 Shomonte
9 Tishe'ate
10 Aserte
11 Aserte hade
12 Aserte kilite
13 Aserte seleste
..... .....
20 Esra
21 Esran haden
22 Esran keleten
..... .....
30 Selasa
31 Selasan haden
32 Selasan kiliten
..... .....
40 Arba'a
41 Arba'a haden
42 Arba'a keleten
..... .....
50 Hamsa
60 Shisa
70 Seb'a
80 Semania
90 Tese'a
100 Mi'ti
200 Kilite mi'ti
300 Seleste mi'ti
1000 Shih
Tigrinya - days of the week
Monday Senuy
Tuesday Selus
Wednesday Rebu 'a
Thursday Hamus
Friday Arbi
Saturday Kadam
Sunday Senbet
Yesterday Timali
Tomorrow Tsibah
Tigrinya - months of the year
January Turee
February Lekatit
March Megabit
April Miazia
May Ghinbot
June Sene
July Hamle
August Nehase
September Meskerem
October Tekemti
November Hedar
December Tahsas
Tigrinya - useful words & phrases
Yes U'weh
No Aykonen
Fine, ok, beautiful Tsebuk
Hello Selam
Goodbey Selamat
Welcome Merhaba
Thank you Yekeniyeley
I am happy Hagus iny
I am sorry Aytehazeley
Where is . . . . Abey alo . . . .
Bus station Maerefi autobus
Bus stop Autobus tetew tiblelu
Train Babur
Railway station Ferovia
Left Tsegam
Right Yeman
Good day Bruch me 'altee
Good evening Bruch me'shet
Good night Bruch leti
I am tired Anay degimay
I am thirsty Temiay
Wait (a minute) Hansab (or Tshana)
Delicious Te'um
Tigrinya - foods and drinks
Breakfast Kursee
Lunch Misah
Supper Derar
Bread Bani
Beef Sga Kebtee
Cheese Formajo
Chicken Derho
Fish Assa
Butter Tesmi
Pepper Berbere
Beans Baldengua (or Adagua)
Vegetables Hamlee
Onions Shigurtee
Patato Dinish
Salad Selatta
hot Woo 'uy
Cold Zehool
Dry Nikoots
Delicious Tu 'um
Fresh Haddish
Spicy Merir zibele
Sweet Muhkor
One beer Hanti biera
Coffee Boon
Tea Sha'hee
Milk Tsaba
Water Mai
Mineral water Mai gaz
Coca Cola Ko ka - Ko la
Tigrinya - miscellaneous questions and respons
If speaking to a male female
How are you? Kemey alogha Kemey aloghi
Not bad Dehan aloghu
Very well thank you. And you? Sennay, neshighum ke? Sennay, neshighi ke?
What is your name? Men shimka? men shimki?
Where are you from? Weddi ayenay kebabi ikha? Gwai ayenay kebaqbi ikhi?
What is your address? Adrashakha abey'yu? Adrashakhi abey'yu?
What is your telephone number? Qu'zri telephonekha kendey'yu? Quzri shilkekhi kendey'yu?
When were you born? Me'as tewelidka? Me'as tewelidki?
What nationality are you? Zyeginetka intay iyu Zyeginetki intay iyu
Where were you born? Abey tewelidka? Abey tewelidki?
Where do you live? Abey tinebir? Abey tinebiri?
Where do you live? Abey tigimet? Abey tigimetti?
Do you speak English? Ingliz fuzarebdo?
I don't understand Ayterede'anin
Where are you from? Kabey mezi'ka Kabey mezi'ki
May I take your photograph? Kese alekado?
Do you have an ID? Senedat alokado? Senedat alokidi?
Do you understand? Terrediika? Terredi iki?
Excuse me! Yigreta!
Im sorry Aytiha zeley
Thank you Yegeniyeley
You're welcome Genzebka Genzebki
Good morning Dehando hadirkum
Good evening Bruch mishet
Good night Luwam leyti
Good bye! Dehan kunu
Good luck! tsubuk e'dl!
How do you do? Kemey teghewun? Kemey teghewuni?
Pleased to meat you Tsubuk  menelaye
What is your father's name? Abbogha men yibihal? Abboghi men yibihal?
What is your mother's name? Addegha men tibihal? Addeghi men tibihal?
What is your son's name? Weddikha men yibihal? Weddikhi men yibihal?
What is your daughter's name? Gwalka men tibihal? Gwalki men tibihal?
Can I give you a hand? Selam kiblekadoh? Selam kiblekidoh?
Can I be of any help? Kite hagagezdo?
Are you hungry? Temika aleka? temiki aleki?
Are you thirsty? tsemika aleka? tsemiki aleki?
Where is the toilet? Shiqaq abey iyu?
Here it is! Inehe!
Do you need anything? Zedliyeka neger allo diyu? Zedliyeki neger allo diyu?
May I come in? Ki'atudo?  
Come in Ito Itewi
Sit down Kof bel! Kof belli!


Tigrigna for beginners - by Amanuel Haileselassie - Helsinki Finland
Tigrinya for beginners - by Amanuel Haile - Helsinki Finland Tigrigna for beginners - by Amanuel Haileselassie - Helsinki Finland Tigrinya for beginners - by Amanuel Haile - Helsinki Finland

Tigrigna for beginners contains Tigrinya elementary tutorials. The CD includes a variety of teaching material which would help for those who would like to learn the Tigrinya language, either from the beginner or to somebody with a very limited knowledge of the language.

No previous knowledge is required since Tigrigna for beginners starts from the very basic like the alphabet, pronunciation etc. Additionally this CD-ROM was designed in a clever manner that teaches Tigrinya as well entertain at the same time. The CD is made with very rich multimedia techniques and user-friendly interfaces.

Ordering information:


Merhaba Tigrinia Language Tutorial CD-ROM 
Merhaba Tutorial was created to serve as a starting point for those seeking to learn Tigrinya but who have been hindered by the lack of good instructional materials.  The purpose of Merhaba tutorial is to give the student the means to easily learn and practice what is necessary to speak, read, and write what best can be called conversational Tigrinya.  While basic elements of grammar are covered in this tutorial, this package is not intended to provide an in-depth or academic study of Tigrinya.  It will however help you learn the basic alphabet and structure of the language, along with hundreds of commonly used words, all in a self-paced and (we hope) fun environment.

This program is prepared in such a way that it can be used by all types of people who want to learn Tigrinya. Some of the users could be:

  • Eritrean kids who are born in Diaspora
  • Eritrean youth who grew in Diaspora and can read English 
  • Foreigners (parents/children) who want to learn Tigrinya
  • Adult Eritreans who want to explore and learn their own Tigrinya.
Ordering information:


Tigrinya the EZ way
Tigrinya the EZ way Tigrinya the EZ way Tigrinya the EZ way
Learning Tigrinya is both easy and fun with this multimedia program featuring point and click native speaker's sound with the ability to record your own and compare to a native speaker. This program contains over 2,000 Tigrinya phrases, words, and colorful images to make learning Tigrinya fun and easy (or EZ).

Ordering information:


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