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Eden Prairie School District’s adult class in Somali language and culture is seen by non-Somalis as way to foster communication.

Abdullahi Hassan said when he heard more than 28 adults had registered for the Somali language and culture class he teaches in Eden Prairie, he couldn’t believe it.

His initial disbelief was soon replaced by another emotion: pride in his adopted community.

“It’s a good sign that people are willing to learn,” Hassan said.

The former St. Paul charter school instructor moved to Eden Prairie five years ago and now works as a Somali liaison for Eden Prairie schools’ communications department.

Hassan’s job takes him into schools and the homes of dozens of Somali families where he provides assistance with school registration and other educational needs.

“My main goal is to make sure all children get the education they need,” Hassan said.

But for eight consecutive Mondays in a math classroom at Eden Prairie Central Middle School, Hassan switches gears and becomes a liaison for non-Somalis.

“My goal is for them to learn everyday Somali language,” Hassan said. “They are not going to be linguists, so to speak, but they’ll know words students use.”

He said many of his pupils are teachers. Others simply want to know more about their neighbors’ language and customs. Each student pays $61 to take the course.

Over 5,000 reasons to learn

“I hear so much Somali everyday, I almost think I can pick it up,” said Michelle Farinella of Eagan after a recent class. “I think it’s nice that teachers here will be using it on a daily basis.”

Farinella, who works in Eden Prairie’s school registration office, said she’s sure she’ll mispronounce some words and phrases she’s learned, but she’ll keep trying because it’s nice to know she’s “sharing something” with Somali students and adults.

Ann Coates, Eden Prairie’s adult programs coordinator, said the district first offered an introductory Somali language course about three years ago. She said six students registered for the class.

As word of the class spread, “People said, ‘If I’d known I would have signed up,'” Coates said.

This time around, word of mouth and advertisements in neighboring school districts’ community education catalogues helped Eden Prairie register its own residents and others from the Bloomington, Eden Prairie, Edina and Richfield school districts.

According to Eden Prairie city estimates, the southwest metro area community has more than 5,000 Somali residents.

Apt pupils

At a recent class, Hassan taught first-and third-person pronouns, distributed information about major Islamic holidays, and made sure there was time near the end of the session to answer individual questions.

“How do you say ‘good job'”? asked one of the teachers enrolled as a student in the class. (She didn’t raise her hand.)

“Guuleyso.” Hassan said as he wrote the word on the oversized note pad he used instead of the chalk board. It’s roughly translated as “you’re the winner.”

He also offered the students another phrase, “weynow” (pronounced “wayknow”) that’s roughly translated as “you’re an adult.”

Hassan said it’s a phrase teachers can use to boast the egos of elementary and middle school students — though the smiling father of four said not to use it with older students. Everyone knew why.

After class, Eden Prairie early childhood instructor Ann LaTour and a few of her co-workers stayed behind to speak with Hassan.

She plans to write the English and Somali translations of the words she uses on many of the pictures she uses with her 3- and 4-year-old students.

“Several of the children I work with speak Somali,” LaTour said. “So if I can help bridge that gap with phrases they’re familiar with by combining English with Somali, that helps.”

Patrice Relerford • 612-673-4395

Patrice Relerford • prelerford@startribune.com

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