As I have been in Amman for five weeks now, I will do my best to catch you up on my life so far. Amman is amazing overall. I am here on an intensive Arabic Language program so this post I’m going to focus on how challenging it has been for me to learn Arabic, as well as giving you some extra fun facts and details about my experiences so far. I have taken two and half years of Arabic at my university in the United States, but it is difficult to practice my Arabic skills there. Studying abroad helps me improve my speaking, vocabulary, reading and writing skills because they are all essential parts of living.
As part of the program, all students are required to live with a host family. My host dad is the cutest little old Jordanian man ever. He can speak English fluently, which is helpful because if I look like I don’t understand something in Arabic, he’ll say it in English and then teach me how to say it in Jordanian Arabic. Technically, I have five host siblings. However, the eldest daughter is married and doesn’t live in the house. The second eldest is 23 and I share a room with her and the youngest daughter, who is only eight years old. I also have two host brothers who are 19 and 17. All of my siblings speak English and my host mom even speaks a little English, although she prefers Arabic. Despite the dual languages in the house, it is still easy to misunderstand someone.
For example, a few weeks ago I came home and noticed the dining room table had a tablecloth, nice china, a vegetable platter and a pitcher of water. Although no one said anything, I assumed people were coming over. I went to my room to do homework and my little sister came in and said, in English, that my host dad says I should stay in the room and not come out. So, for three and a half hours, I sat in my room feeling like Harry Potter and wondering why I was banished to my room. Finally, at 11:30 PM, one of my older sisters comes in and says there’s food on the kitchen table that I can eat. I asked her why I was banned and she said they had people over from church and the ones they didn’t know as well had left. My host dad had personally taken me to church so I was still a little confused why I had to hide. However, I came out and I said hi to people that I’ve already met. After they left, I went into the kitchen to get food. My older sister asked my parents why they said I had to stay in my room and they were very confused. Apparently my little sister misunderstood them! I was quite relieved. Have you ever had a mix-up like that?
I am taking four classes this semester, which doesn’t sound like a lot of classes. I know you probably take lots of different classes like math, science, social studies and English. However, my classes are a lot longer. One of my classes is two and half hours long! I am taking a history class, a research class, and two language classes. But in reality, since all my classes are in Arabic, they are all language classes. English is not allowed in any of my classes.
Also, as part of the program, I have a peer tutor to help me practice speaking Arabic. My peer tutor is extremely nice and friendly. She and I met up with another friend of hers to grab fruit smoothies and to chat. I was very nervous because I didn’t think my Arabic was good enough so she would be able to understand me but she could! We talked for two hours and afterwards I was feeling much more confident in my ability to speak Arabic.
My peer tutor is much more forgiving when I have trouble finding the right word to say compared to some taxi drivers I have had. Most of the taxi drivers only speak Arabic, so it was very difficult for me when I first arrived in Amman and had only learned some very basic phrases in the spoken Arabic for the city. Now that I am further along, I can chat with my taxi driver and tell him how I am studying Arabic at the University of Jordan. Some drivers are very friendly and will try to teach me phrases in the colloquial Arabic. I surprised one driver by saying, “What’s up?” in the local dialect. He started laughing hysterically. I asked my friends about it later and they said that it probably sounded strange because I am a total foreigner who just said, “What’s up?” in slang Jordanian Arabic. I agreed with them. I would probably laugh at myself, too.
I hope to teach you some basic phrases such as “Hello,” and “My name is…” when we video chat. I look forward to meeting all of you and I hope you are enjoying my journey thus far, although I am still in the beginning. Do you know a foreign language? Do you want to learn a foreign language when you grow up? I started learning Spanish when I was in seventh grade, but I have friends who started learning a foreign language earlier than that. Does your school have any foreign language classes?