The Internet is now bursting with programs to learn all sorts of Arabic, even Egyptian Arabic, and I’ve been reading some of those sites, downloading some of the materials, listening to some of the audio files, and trying alone– like always– to learn the language of my family, the language I should have and could have learned thirty-two years ago, when I married an Egyptian man who didn’t want me discovering his secrets. My Egyptian husband came with two Egyptian girls from a first marriage, aged nine and eleven, who did not know English. Of course, they needed to learn English from me, and that was my husband’s convenient reasoning for forbidding me from speaking Egyptian Arabic.
My relationship with Egyptian Arabic is complicated. I’m still afflicted with a persistent approach-avoidance conflict around learning it, and finally, at the age of seventy-two, I can look back and see my complicity in my failure. I should have stood up for myself, even by threatening divorce, but I did not realize that my inability to speak my family’s language would underlay all the problems that led to my divorce eleven years later. I’ve never neutralized this anger towards my now ex-husband, nor have I lost the desire to speak Egyptian Arabic. I do not fault those two young girls– now middle-aged moms and workers– for cooperating with their father to deprive me of my right to speak their language. We lived in Riyadh, where they faced overwhelming pressure from him, as well as the having to adjust to an American, English-speaking step-mom, while their own mom stayed behind in Egypt, effectively abandoning them.
I recently mentioned to both daughters– for they did become my daughters, in spite of the challenges– that I had started yet again trying to learn Egyptian, and (wonder of wonders), they supported me, though neither wanted to become my teacher. That’s OK. For the first time ever, this year, they finally understood the pain I’d suffered, and they now would like to see me succeed. All I can now say is, “Better late than never.”
They have helped me obtain a tutor in Egypt. We use social media to chat several times a week. I continue to study the Internet materials that are now so useful and available.
Additionally, I’ve taken up learning formal Arabic again– الْفُصْحَى. Last year, I enrolled in an Internet class, and it was such a delight and a success that I enrolled in the next class, and then the third class. I’m remembering much of what I’d forgotten, and am learning new grammar and vocabulary every day. I’m well on my way to progressing in formal Arabic, and I’ve improved in reading the Qur’an. My girls have helped me with homework from these classes.
Now, I need to catch up with Egyptian. Do I really need this language, at this stage in my life and family status? No. We are all in the US, living and speaking English. I need Egyptian less than ever, but I’ve never laid to rest the insult of not being invited and encouraged to speak Egyptian with them all those years ago when we lived under the same roof. Together with their father, they slighted me, turned their backs on my efforts and right to learn their language. My ex-husband bears this fault, not those young girls. I accept a secondary fault for being too passive in asserting myself.
Alhumdulillah that they have finally matured enough to realize the terrible injustice that was done to me, the offense that formed the fissure in my marriage, the chasm that grew until it cracked and brought everything down. Alhumdulillah, also, for the love between me and those girls that bridged that chasm and kept us together in spite that I divorced their father.
Now, may Allah let me live long enough, and support me, so that I can finally realize this goal that has haunted me since 1991!
I enjoyed reading this. I’m glad you are learning Egyptian Arabic – so exciting!
I am learning Emirati Arabic in person… and it’s a lot of fun. But to be fair the most I get to practice it is when I go to KSA, and even though it’s not exactly the same but people understand you.
Thanks for your comment, Anna. Are you an expat living in the Emirates? I looked at your lovely website—when I lived in KSA, photography was so, so forbidden I didn’t dare sneak any photos. I wish I could go back now with my camera and the with photography skill I have developed over the years!.
I am living in the UAE, yes… been here 11 years and many things have changed here too in the last years.
The first time I went to KSA was 2020 and even then I felt very weary to take any photos in the streets because it’s not technically even allowed now, but since the youth took the habit of filming everything with their phones it’s sort of ok now to point your phone camera in every direction… so when I’m alone out there I only would really use my phone, not to get into any trouble. But I’m a photographer by trade so I don’t shy of shooting Saudis at all the events I am invited to cover in the kingdom.