Wednesday, April 3, 2013

On Learning Arabic

I found an Arabic teacher quite by accident and so I've begun a crash course in the language. I'm embarrassed to say that up to this point, I haven't put any effort into learning the language for a few reasons. Firstly, going outside of the compound sadly affords little opportunity to speak Arabic. Many of the shopkeepers are not Saudi and so you tend to speak English in those situations anyhow. Secondly, Saudi culture isn't generally a mixing culture. From the walled villas to very private people it can be hard to develop relationships in which to actually use Arabic. That doesn't mean it is impossible of course. And I've found that there are opportunities to practice if you are outgoing. Saudi are also very friendly outside of Riyadh. It's like the city casts a pall of shyness over everyone. Once you get out in the desert things change, which is nice. I do believe that in other Arabic speaking countries, it is probably easier to learn and speak Arabic as you tend not to be as isolated and do mix more with locals. But Saudi Arabia is, as always, a very different ball of wax.

All of my excuses aside, I've been mentally uncomfortable with my lack of motivation. I learned Swedish, albeit not perfectly, nor even very well. But I did study for a few years, slogged my way through grammar, vocabulary, and textbooks. I wrote a few papers in Swedish and while I surely managed to butcher the beautiful Swedish language, I tried. Learning Swedish really enhanced my experience of living in Sweden. I think that learning the language allows you to interact more deeply and meaningfully with your host culture. Learning a different language often gives you insights into the ways a society and culture think and approach life.

Anyhow, despite all my failures in language acquisition, I'm enjoying my classes. My teacher is a friend from my compound who was born and raised in Egypt. She's fluent in French and English, so she understands second-language acquisition. I'm also learning how to read and write which is really fun. It takes some time to wrap my brain around the characters but so far there is logic and order in the characters.

Have you ever learned another language? Do you speak Arabic? What were some challenges you faced in learning another language? How did learning another language change your perspective?

1 comment:

  1. I am trying to learn Arabic, but much more slowly than you, I am afraid. I am hoping to pick up my pace of study this summer when I will be in between school years. Good luck!

    Would you believe that someone in our church here in NC is from Jordan?

    Kate @ BJJ, Law, and Living