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.
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
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
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
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
- days of the week
- months of the year
- useful words & phrases
How are you?
Kemay alechee? (female)
Fine, ok, beautiful
That's fine, you're welcome
I am happy
I am sorry
May I take your photograph?
What is your name?
Men shemkee? (female)
Where is . . . .
alo . . . .
Autobus tetew tiblelu
Bruch me 'altee
I am tired
I am thirsty
Wait (a minute)
Hansab (or Tshana)
- foods and drinks
Sinkoot (or Bisool)
Ko ka - Ko la
for beginners - by Amanuel Haileselassie - Helsinki Finland
contains Tigrinya elementary tutorials.
The CD includes a variety of teaching material which would help for those who would like to learn the
language, either from the beginner or to somebody with a very limited knowledge of the language.
No previous knowledge is required since
starts from the very basic like the alphabet,
pronunciation etc. Additionally this CD-ROM was designed in a clever manner that teaches
as well entertain at the same time. The
CD is made with very rich multimedia techniques and user-friendly
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
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
Foreigners (parents/children) who want
to learn Tigrinya
Adult Eritreans who want to explore and
learn their own Tigrinya.
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).