كاتي IS MY NAME WOOOO
Today, class, we’re going to learn how to learn Arabic really fast—or, we’ll learn all about what frustrated me while attempting to learn Arabic really fast. I'm catching you up on what the first two weeks have been like, in Intensive Darija class, before moving on to other stuff, because you'll probably want to know what 4-hour intensive language classes are like. Mezien? Good.
Arabic is a varied and complex language, with (I am so eloquent here) bajillions of different spoken dialects spanning North Africa and the middle east. I’m studying the very particular dialect of Arabic spoken in Morocco, Darija, which is often incomprehensible to Arabic speakers from anywhere else (this incomprehensibility is, interestingly, one-way; since the media is largely in Fous7a and Egyptian Arabic, Darija speakers have no trouble understanding other dialects). Darija is an entirely oral dialect, and so the rules that apply to written Modern Standard Arabic do not apply in our Darija classroom; this makes spelling and (oftentimes) pronunciation sort of whatever-you-want. Cool!
We conduct classes using a mind-bending combination of Arabic script and latin-script phonetics (there is no International Phonetic Alphabet here, we just write what sounds right, which is different from the weird Peace Corps textbook, which is different from the class handouts. BRAIN). So, for example, here are some verbs conjugated in the past tense:
Then we are instructed to write a paragraph about something, using the verbs that we just conjugated. Easy, right? NOPE. We’re not fluent enough in the alphabet to be able to spell out a paragraph using Arabic script, so we’re supposed to do it something like this:
I’m struggling a lot with the brain acrobatics, I just thought I’d share that with you all. Good thing Allie is awesome at fous7a. Good thing we have 12-year-olds to be way better at this than us.
Apart from the regional differences in the dialect from city to city, the language changes according to social class, neighborhood, your mood, whether you have enough saliva in the back of your throat. I really enjoy Darija.
Still, picking up 2 new languages is challenging, and I find myself defaulting to French whenever I’m actually doing something in the city. Arabic numbers? No way. Especially since I’ve officially renounced the French system and adopted the Belgian (soixante, septante, octante, nonante—none of this quatre-vingt-dix-eew anymore).
Sometimes in class, I get frustrated with myself for not understanding immediately, for messing up sounding out words, for not learning it all perfectly as soon as I open the book. It’s the classic measure-self-worth-against-performance-in-class complex, which is silly, and so I’m working on being patient with myself. This is only week 2 and I can DO this. I AM doing this! I WILL LEARN THESE SKILLS TO PUT TO USE FOR A MORE JUST AND HUMANE WORLD!
Still, the combination of difficult classwork, new culture, new place, new language, new everything, feeling isolated and starved for news of home—I find myself sometimes becoming overemotional about things like numbers and verb tenses, laundry and showering, eating and sleeping. It’s the little things here that yank the comfortable chair of familiarity out from under me at every turn; sometimes I get tired of falling off the cultural merry-go-round, and every-so-often attempt to steal a meditative moment of solitude in the bathroom. (The bathroom is becoming a very spiritual experience for me. It’s the ONLY time I ever spend alone here.)
It’s just that before I left, 4 months was no big deal. I think of my friends who have left for months and months, years and years, and my heart fills up; 4 months looks pretty scary from here. But I have found a wonderful community here, too, and I know it’s something we can all pull off together (cue high school musical. Yeah, and I know a dance to it, too), as we share our linguistic triumphs and awkward moments. Let’s DO this.