Learning a new language

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.


image source: http://www.itchyfeetcomic.com/2014/10/vanilla-arabic.html#.VQSaz47keSo (click on the image to open a larger view)

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


4 thoughts on “Learning a new language

  1. Hi – which Arabic have you decided to learn? We used to live in Cairo, so we learnt Egyptian Arabic. It served us well everywhere else because people understood us – as you say, because of Egyptian being used as the Arabic of film dubbing, and because people in other Arabic-speaking countries seem to have a fondness for it, especially coming out of the mouths of foreigners.

    As you’re interested in language learning, have you seen the FutureLearn course on Understanding Language (from the point of view of learners and teachers). It’s here https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/understanding-language It’s free and it starts in April.

    Good luck with your studies


    • Hi Elaine, lovely to hear from you 🙂 After much to-ing and fro-ing, I decided to focus on Levantine or Shami Arabic, but also often refer to MSA books too. Egyptian Arabic has a number of differences compared with Shami Arabic, but my (limited) research led me to conclude that the latter has more similarities with MSA, hence my decision. How many years did you live in Cairo for? Did it take you long to develop basic conversational fluency? I feel a bit disadvantaged because I live in England, and don’t have the opportunity at the moment for an immersive language-learning experience. Thank you so much for the link to the Future Learn course. Had no idea about it; and so rushed to sign up! ‘Shukran’ (thank you in Arabic) too, for your kind wishes about my studies 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Saneeya – you’re not in London, or nearby are you? The Arab British Centre has some interesting looking Arabic courses: http://www.arabbritishcentre.org.uk/what-we-offer/classes/arabic/ Their mailing list is worth signing up to because they have interesting music and art events too.

        Conversational Arabic didn’t take long to pick up because, when you live and work in a place you repeat and hear standard phrases every day, with the taxi driver, the man in the cafe, the greengrocer etc. To give you encouragement, did you see the Canadian woman who confounded Arabic judges on a talent contest because she’d picked up all the nuances of the language, without having any connection to Arabic, other than a love of the language https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ziunN9It-dY?

        Good luck with your studies. It’s a beautiful, fascinating language.


        • Hi Elaine, thank you again – you’re a treasure-trove of Arabic-learning resources! 🙂 And yes – I’d seen videos of Jennifer Graut’s performances during ‘Arab’s Got Talent’. Her pronunciation as she sings in Arabic is remarkable considering she is not conversant in the language! Shukran marah okhra. I’ve subscribed to your blog too, and look forward to unpicking the nuances behind song lyrics.

          Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s