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Archive for the ‘Arabic’ category

Arabic lessons commence

From the wall of the old mosque in Edirne, Turkey.

It seems like a natural idea to attempt the native language of the culture in which you are living. In fact, I cannot imagine spending a great deal of time in a foreign country and not speaking the local language. It’s be frustrating. The thought of not being able to shout back at a shopkeeper who once again stuffed up my order, well… let’s just say life flows better in my direction when I speak the local tongue.

Travelling of course is different. It’s hardly common sense to tire over unaspirated bi-labial consonants in Malayalam because you plan to navigate the backwaters of Kerala or immerse indulge yourself in Ayurvedic treatments in Thiruvananthapuram. Even those Lonely Planet phrasebooks featuring natty photos of burqa-clad wheat threshers won’t see you scaling heights in Aramaic dialect as you perspire about Syria, although it does acknowledge your resourcefulness and cultural sensitivity.

Additionally, English is firmly established as the lingua franca of the jaded jet-set, the indigent nation of backpackers and, especially, of any person working in tourism from Vang Vien to Peunto Arenas. English may even one day take over from Thai in the land formerly known as Siam. There’s no need to learn how to say ‘thank you’ in Thai, primarily because it’s a hideous sounding language to anyone but Thai nationals, and secondly, Westerners who speak Thai raise my suspicions. And fears.

That I mastered French easily comes down to the fact that the Gallic spirit is a worthy opponent in arguments and general conversation. I refused to be a passive participant. In Turkey, my skills at chattering away in Istanbul’s finest dialect meant taxi drivers were cognisant of their inability to take me via a scenic route. I was a local. I talked a lot and saved cash too.

Something I'd like to be reading, in the native tongue, sometime between now and my death.

Here in the good ol’ UA of E, fluency in Arabic among expatriates might be an irrelevant goal. My first greeting in Arabic to the taxi driver who slung my suitcase in the trunk received a cool, ‘I’m not Arab’. But rather than tell him of his need for the indefinite article, I placated him by telling him how much I’d enjoyed Pakistan. Though he was from India.

That first introduction to a fully English-compliant workforce has been a massive source of disappointment. I want exoticness. I want Dubai’s inhabitants to astonish me with sibilant trills and pharangeal consonant clusters. But no. Instead I get nothing more than the enervating, ‘Yes, sir. I can be taking you there immediately, sir’. Or from my smart-mouthed housekeeper, ‘I not finish ironing today too much cleaning dirty bathroom’. Attitude aside, and quelling my desire to physically discipline such insolence, the futility of enrolling in Arabic is clear. Tagalog or Urdu would be more useful.

Still, I’m not one to give in to common sense so I’m not leaving Dubai until I can read and write Arabic. To this end I paid the requisite fees last month and am currently attending lessons twice weekly with the very capable and elegant Ms Amira, at a language school situated just a short walk from my apartment. Monday and Thursday afternoons I begin storing any available phelgm for use in the evening class. And it appears to be working.

Though I sound as staccato as I once did in Spanish classes many years ago, I’m back where I should be and it feels good to be learning again. I can spell out words on street signs despite not understanding what is being advertised or stated. This gives me great happiness. I can write the alphabet and I no longer care that the Arabic vowel system looks exceptionally complicated. I’m making progress.