As I have mentioned in previous posts, I am in CIEE’s Arabic Language program. The entire focus of my program is to learn the language native to the Middle East: Arabic. I have been learning two different types of Arabic. There is the Modern Standard Arabic, which is an old version Arabic. It is similar to Shakespearean English for us. Everyone can read it, but nobody speaks it. You see it on signs, on the news channels and in the newspapers but nowhere else.
The language that everyone speaks is known as the colloquial language, or dialect. In Jordan, the dialect is called Shami. We call it ammiyya which simply means the “general language.” Every country has ammiyya because there is a local dialect everywhere you go. Personally, I think the spoken language (ammiyya) is easier than the formal, written one (Modern Standard Arabic).
Do you know about the term ‘language barrier’? It is a term for the challenge in communication that happens when two people are speaking that don’t know the same language. I think some of the funniest language barriers are in class because not all of our professors know English.
One of my professors really likes to focus on idioms. Do you know what an idiom is? They are expressions that mean something different from their actual meaning. The expression “piece of cake” is a good example. It does not mean that you are talking about an actual piece of cake, but you want to say something was easy. What
are some other idioms you know?
Can you imagine someone trying to explain expressions in their own language without knowing any of your language? My professor will sometimes act out words or try to draw them on our whiteboard so we can understand them. It’s almost like a game of charades or Pictionary when we review vocabulary each week. My professor is very patient with us as we try to guess what the phrases mean.
Patience is very important when helping someone learn a new language. I took Modern Standard Arabic classes for two years in the United States but I didn’t learn the dialect people speak here. When I first started conversing with Jordanians, I had to ask people to repeat themselves a lot. Most people, instead of repeating themselves in Arabic, just responded in English.
It took a while before I could clearly express that I wanted them to repeat what they said in Arabic but slower and more clearly. I knew that I could understand them if I could hear what specific words they were saying. However, I often had trouble when people spoke quickly or mumbled. Do you know anyone who is learning English? I recommend that you speak very clearly when talking with them so they can understand what you are saying. Even saying “How are you?” is much better than “How’re ya?”
Do you know any other language? I speak several languages and have found them to be very useful in my life. Knowing another language makes it easier to travel to countries where people do not speak English. It also can show future employers my ability to think and be creative. When I don’t know a word in Arabic, I try to describe it using other words that I do know. If I don’t know “stoplight,” for example, then I might say “the sign in the street that is red, yellow and green.” When you grow up, it is good to have the experience of learning another language, even if you do not use it on a daily basis, because it enhances your thinking, determination and creativity.
You do not have to travel or want to travel to learn a new language! There is a program called Global Language Network, which offers free foreign language classes. Knowing a foreign language is useful! What languages do you want to learn?