A BBC item titled Language lessons ‘should aim for more than phrasebook competence’ caught my interest. The article caught my eye for a variety of reasons; firstly it’s about teaching, and secondly, because I am trying to teach myself Arabic these days. In the article, Vicky Gough of the British Council, says, “It’s really important that we don’t just teach languages in isolation, but as part of a wider cultural education.” The more I resort to a variety of language resources in my quest for basic Arabic understanding, the more I am struck by how cultural aspects impact languages.
I am learning that Arabic is a very poetic and metaphorical language. Expressions of delight, for instance, can be described in a myriad of ways which actually have nothing to do with the object of delight in the first place! For example, in colloquial Levantine or Shami Arabic (my attempts to figure out which Arabic I want to learn could comically be surmised from the cartoon on the right), the transliterated phrases “aala ra’see” (Arabic: على راسي) literally means ‘on my head’, and “aala aynee” (Arabic: على عَيني), literally translates to “from my eyes”; both are the replies oft used to mean “it’s my pleasure”, after someone thanks you for something.
I consider myself to be elementarily proficient in French. But today I learnt, after a strange look from a friend, that the meaning of the sentence “Je suis trop pleine” (I am really full) after a meal, does not have the same expression as it does in English. This is because in French, one cannot simply state that they are full. “Really now, so what are you full of?” my friend asked me with a cheeky grin. After some banter, I had to correct myself to say, “J’ai trop mangé” (I ate too much). Incidentally, in Arabic, although you can say “Ana qad aa’akl kteer” (Arabic: أنا قد أكل كثيرا) ‘I have eaten a lot’, I am told that it is more appreciated by Arabs when you say “zaki kteer” (Arabic: زكي كثيرا) which literally means ‘very yummy’.
I am off now for a seminar about ‘School Life Experiences of Young People with Intellectual Disabilities in Columbia’. So Au revoir and “Ma’a-salaamah” (Arabic: مع السلامة) ‘see you later’ .
Saneeya Qureshi © 2015