Arabic Language, Again

Lately, I’ve been spending more time on the Natural Arabic website. I’ve been studying the vocabulary, taking the quizes, replaying the selections, and doing my best to put those new words into my long-term memory. It’s not working very well, yet I continue to do it, as if learning Arabic is something I should do, can do, and need to do. I apply myself to it as if I haven’t already applied myself year after year with the same poor result. I am not fluent in Arabic. In fact, I can’t even understand it whether it’s spoken in Fusha, Saudi dialect, or Egyptian. I worked so hard, the entire time I was in Riyadh, to learn this language, and I had no support from my husband, except for learning the Qur’anic language, and yet, after twelve years in Riyadh, I should be farther along. I should have been fluent years ago.

Why am I resuming my study of Arabic? I abandoned it from 1998 til 2008, while I struggled to reestablish my life in the United States. I missed it, and felt sorry that I couldn’t achieve fluency. I still loved the language, and felt my disadvantage in not knowing it. When I took it up again, I was surprised to discover that I hadn’t forgotten much of what I’d learned. Has I learned so little that retaining it was not difficult?

I remembered the basic grammar. In fact, I can still look at just about any Arabic word and tell you its grammatical structure, if not its meaning. I remembered how to form possessives. I remembered the dual,  I even remembered some of the common verb forms and how to conjugate them.  I remembered the particles and many of the verbal nouns.

Reading is still easy. It’s just the meaning that continues to escape me.

I can’t even blame my retardation upon Arabic’s expanded vocabulary (compared to English). Even the common words that I recognize easily enough do not register with meaning in my mind. Perhaps it’s simply a matter of repetition, I thought, as I applied myself to the lessons of Natural Arabic. I repeated words and phrases and entire articles over and over until I was sick of them, then went back the next day, and couldn’t remember half of what I’d learned, so I’d do it again, and come back the next day, and maybe remember a few words.

I love the Natural Arabic website. It’s user-friendly, efficient, and the most engaging Arabic language tool I’ve discovered, so I cannot blame it for my incredibly slow progress.

I downloaded the articles and put them on CD so I can listen to them in my car. The result is that I can now read and recite along with the CD, but I still don’t get the meaning, entirely. Oh, I can usually get the gist, but the gist is not good enough. I want to remember the meaning of every single word, every phrase, every idiom, and I want to remember them instantly, almost like the native speaker I should have become.

Now that I’m sixty, I refuse to believe that my mental capacity for languages has diminished. My daughter wants me to speak Arabic with her son, whose first language is necessarily English because we live in the United States.  She wants him to grow up with Arabic, also, so I am finally getting my chance at speaking, even if it is with a three-year-old. I’ll really be mortified if he learns more than I do, and learns it faster. Well, at least I can still claim the technical achievement of knowing the alphabet, word structure, and how sentences are put together. He’ll have to grow half up before he can grasp those basics. I’ll probably be a goner by then.
So why am I doing this? I love sound of the language.  I’m doing it for love.


About Marahm

At first glance, I may appear to be a middle-aged American woman with kids, grandkids, retired from a job in a hospital, gratefully relieved from the responsibilities that come with all of that. Behind the image, which is true enough, I am fairly unhinged from much of American mainstream living, having spent twelve years in Saudi Arabia, years that sprung me from societal and familial impositions, and narrow bands of truth. I have learned to embrace my identity as a seeker, an artist, and a writer. I study Arabic and Italian language, because I love them, and I love their people. I still dream of spending more time in the Middle East and Italy, though the dreaming now seems more real than the possibilities. I am a photographer. I write, and sometimes publish, flash memoir, and now a blog or two.
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6 Responses to Arabic Language, Again

  1. djd says:

    You have my encouragements. 🙂 (if that helps…)

    I don’t quite know the alphabet yet, but almost. Very few words and almost no grammar, etc., but I am just beginning. I have a weekly lesson now and I bought a new book with exercises.

    The first book I bought was Arabic for Dummies and it really is dumb after all, because it only teaches in phonetics (transcription).

    It really is valuable for a child to be bilingual. I had to insist, but both my sons are. (French-English)

  2. Marahm says:

    Good for your sons, and for you, too, for insisting! They will thank you when they get old enough to appreciate the gift of an additional language.

    As for Arabic transliteration, I have no use for it. It’s just one more thing to learn in a language that is already difficult.

    Since the recent wars in the Middle East, many new programs for learning Arabic have blossomed all over the Internet as well as college campuses. When I first started, in 1986, all I could find was a traveler’s tiny phrase book which I studied cover to cover. I would have liked to attend an immersion school in the Middle East, but that chance never materialized for me, ironically.

    Good luck in your studies!

  3. Sarah says:

    My progress with Arabic was extremely slow. People always think it’s the script, but that is really the easy part!

    For native English speakers, there is usually no compelling reason to learn any particular foreign language, so which one do you pick? Loving the language is as good a reason as many of us will have… I decided to try and learn Spanish for just that reason. I figure it’s better to learn a language for a reason like that than not learn a language at all.

  4. susanne430 says:

    I’m so impressed. I find reading Arabic hard. Last year I learned the letters, but when I’d see Arabic words on Facebook or somewhere, they just seemed to run together. I suppose I didn’t put enough time into trying. Best wishes! I’m sure you will succeed!

  5. Marahm says:

    Reading Arabic really is the easy part, especially when the text includes the harakat— dammah, fatha, kasra, sikoon, etc. I, too, have trouble reading without the vowel markings, but with them, I can read well. You needn’t understand anything to be able to read Arabic.

    I also study Italian. I started it because I’d met my relatives in Italy, and felt an immediate kinship, so I wanted to communicate with them. Over the years, I’ve come to love Italian as much as Arabic. With less than half the study time devoted to Italian as to Arabic, I have achieved some success. I can now watch Italian movies without subtitles, and partake of simple Italian conversations.

    Yeah! That bit of success in Italian helps me stick with the Arabic. I’m not stupid, after all!

  6. Metis says:

    Good luck, M! I am sure you will do it! You can do it! You shall do it for love 🙂

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