My Arabic background (or lack thereof)
I took about 3 years of Arabic classes in middle school when I lived in Dubai. As such, we learned Gulf Arabic. It was exciting but I didn’t spend as much effort on it than I would now. After all, it was before language learning was even a hobby for me.
After about 6 years of no Arabic speaking or practicing opportunities, after I moved back to South Africa, my mom met a lovely Palestinian woman named Nadia who grew up in Al Ain (UAE). We became close friends and she invited my mother and I to take in-person Arabic lessons with her. She taught me Gulf Arabic and I felt my Arabic coming back. I hadn’t forgotten how to read or write, but my vocabulary was rusty and my grammar even worse.
The lessons fizzled out and I focused more on Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Spanish and Hungarian as my main language foci. Arabic just faded into the background. I felt guilty and like it was a wasted opportunity. I wanted to kick myself that I didn’t retain what I learned in school or with Nadia.
A sudden urge to return to Arabic
When my mom and I reconnected with Nadia a few weeks ago, suddenly a little switch in my mind came on and reminded me that Arabic is an incredibly beautiful language with so much interesting history and grammar. I absolutely love writing in Arabic and find joy in every character I write from left to right.
I can’t explain why or how, but perhaps reconnecting with Nadia just reminded me that I hadn’t lost all of my vocabulary yet, and even though my comprehension is better than my speaking, I felt a desire to continue with Arabic again.
Speaking Arabic with strangers at a cafe
A week ago, I was sitting in a cafe with my boyfriend. Four men and a young boy walked in speaking Arabic and sat at the table next to us. I was so excited that I understood basic phrases they said, such as “ordering 5 coffees” and “sit on this chair” and “that’s enough”.
A little background about my previous coffee shop language encounters:
- 10 years ago in a cafe when my Korean was super beginner, my dad encouraged me to go say hello to some Korean people and practice a little. I was incredibly nervous (I’m an introvert with some social anxiety) and it took me ages to muster up courage. But after saying hello, they were so friendly and invited me to sit with them and speak some Korean.
- At the same cafe a few years later, I met an Emirati girl who spoke Arabic (I think she actually came up to me when she saw I was studying Japanese, because so was she) and we became good friends. I feel like cafes are great places to meet people of different languages if you’re not shy to say hello!
I was reminded of those incidents and knew I would regret it if I didn’t say hello to the Arabic group. It took me 12 minutes to stop trembling and dry my sweaty hands, check Google translate audio a few times to make sure I wasn’t going to mess up my (rusty) pronunciation.
My boyfriend could see I was very nervous, and he said he’d help me by breaking the ice. We walked up to the them and he said “sorry to bother you…” and expected to continue to say “my girlfriend is learning Arabic” but I had enough courage to greet them with “Assalamu alaykum” and continue in Arabic with “my name is Lindie, I am learning Arabic. I learned Arabic in Dubai at school. Where are you from?” They were from Syria, Canada and Dubai. We spoke a bit about where we lived in Dubai and they said that my Arabic was really good (probably just being nice; I know I made mistakes and have a long way to go).
Busuu vs Duolingo for Arabic
I started looking at apps I already use that offer Arabic, such as Duolingo and Busuu. However, they only seem to offer (from what I’ve seen so far, but I stand under correction) Classical Arabic. I want to learn Gulf Arabic specifically. I have found that Duolingo’s pronunciation of the Arabic words I’m familiar with seem more close to what I learned in Dubai whereas Busuu would make me sound too “classical”.
I found that the audio in Busuu threw me off because I was used to Gulf Arabic and everything just sounded so different from what I knew. For example:
- I learned “hello” simply as “marhaba”, but Busuu teaches it as “marhaban”
- I learned “what’s your name” as “ma ismak” in Gulf Arabic; Busuu teaches it as “masmuka”
- I know “good evening” as “misa al khair” but Busuu has it as “masa’ou al-khayri”
Of course there are similarities and I can understand most of it, but I don’t want to be mixing accents and dialects by using a non-Gulf Arabic resource after years of learning UAE arabic.
Busuu’s Arabic course
Arabic on Duolingo
Finding an Arabic tutor on italki
I’m browsing Arabic tutors on italki for Gulf Arabic now to continue with Arabic studies. Nadia is too busy to teach again, so I’ll take online lessons for now. If you’re keen to check out italki, which I’ve been using for multiple languages now, you can get $10 free credits after your first $20 spend on language lessons. Just click the banner below or check italki out here.
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How I feel and what’s next
The coffee shop conversation was such an encouraging moment, knowing I hadn’t lost everything and that there’s hope to continue learning, even back from square one again. The excitement gave me energy and motivation for the day, but moreover, a deeper desire to continue learning the beautiful language that Arabic is.
I hope this inspires you to be fearless, to understand that not all is lost if you paused a language for a long time, and that you can always start again and experience exciting moments no matter your level in your target language.
Until next time! .مع السلامة