I have always had a mission, a mission to have a full conversation in Arabic without any stuttering or mistakes. This goal seemed very simple and straightforward, but never attainable. Even though my continuous studying throughout my education I always conjugated a word wrong or forgot the translation of a specific word. To tackle this I thought the best way would be going to a country that spoke the language. This thought process pushed me towards Jordan, but when I chose a city I chose one knowing that the native population does not understand the English Language. At first, this seemed like a great idea and ended up being one, but getting adjusted to it was a challenge.
The Arabic language is unique as it is written from right to left, has over 30 different letters, exclusive phonemes not found in any other languages, too many dialects, and the list goes on. Having a moderate level of understanding I was really proud of myself, but the second I arrived I realized I did not know as much. I have always learned standard Arabic and was quite familiar with the Syrian dialect. In Jordan, the dialect was different. They pronounce many sounds differently, leaving me confused even though I knew the vocabulary. To make matters worse they switched out many common words to others I never heard of. Nonetheless, I was determined to reach my goal, which now included learning a new dialect.
The first objective was to register for classes. I was enrolled in Arabic literature and speech, along with biochemistry and human physiology (I am a biology major). This was great for the learning process as I learned more detailed grammar, many new words, and strangely enough lots of biological terms in Arabic. This was great when I later volunteered as a translator for foreign physicians in refugee camps. Yet, I kept stuttering every time I spoke to locals when buying groceries or simply getting directions. This was frustrating and I wanted to improve this. I realized a part of the deficiency turned out to be my lack of confidence in my speech. That I didn’t feel like I was proficient enough and was scared of embarrassing myself which shied me away from interacting with others in the language.
Little did I know that these mistakes are the only way to improve. With this new mentality, I began speaking to anyone and everyone. In the beginning, many embarrassing mistakes were made, but the end result was that I reached my goal– I spoke Arabic fluently. I even got their accent and dialect down that the locals barely knew I was a foreigner. What I learned from this experience is that the best way to increase the proficiency of a language is to be confident in your abilities. It also requires you to take advantage of your environment by speaking to everyone. Locals are always interested in foreigners and are usually looking to learn about life abroad. This was the reason I spoke so fluently. This process resulted in me speaking to a variety of folks including local vendors, classmates, officers, elders, and sheikhs. This experience taught me so much about their culture, their personal struggles many faced, and the wisdom many had to offer.
Now that I have reached this goal, how do I maintain it? Here are a few tips that I feel that helped me. Like I stated before, practice makes perfect, so you need to expose yourself to the language. For me, I began with changing my phone’s language to Arabic. It surprisingly helps since you are going to be using it constantly throughout the day. Other ways to keep the language fresh is reading. I am not saying to read a whole book, but simply reading news articles or poetry is always a good idea. Anything short that could be easily translated. I even began to watch movies and shows in Arabic to help keep the ball rolling. Thankfully for my speaking skills, I come from an Arab background so I have my family and even my community to practice with.
Lastly, I wanted to point out that this newly acquired skill should be put to use. I found a local organization that helps resettle Syrian refugee families. They were looking for English teachers and tutors for adults and kids. Seeing this opportunity, I took it. This was great as I had the opportunity to do my part in aiding many refugees in the resettlement process but also had the opportunity to practice my Arabic. In the end, learning a language is such a big accomplishment, and has opened so many doors for me. Knowing that I have one language down, I can’t wait to learn the next.