هل تتكلم العربية؟

Do you speak Arabic? No? Well, that is okay because hardly anyone else around here does either.

Although I would love to speak Arabic, I am rarely exposed to Arabic in the UAE. I moved here already knowing this. Other people had told me that they had lived in the UAE for years and still don’t know any Arabic, so I didn’t come here with high expectations of learning Arabic. In fact, when I first moved here, if I had known a little bit of Urdu, Hindi, Malayalam, or Punjabi it may have helped me more than knowing any Arabic. Most of the UAE’s laborers are from Indian, Pakistan, and Bangladesh which means that when I was dealing with buying furniture, getting deliveries, and taking taxis everyday, an inability to communicate with each other was standard.

Just to make this real clear, according to the UAE statistics report from 2010, there are 7,316,073 non-nationals (78% of which are male – but that is a different topic) living in this country but there are only 947,997 Emiratis. Of course this isn’t to say that all non-nationals don’t speak Arabic because actually many of them do. My point of all of this is that I don’t actually have to know Arabic to live here. In fact, I spend a good portion of my day telling my students to stop speaking Arabic (it is English class after all). But, I want to know Arabic. I wanted to learn it before I even came here, and I still have the desire to have at least like a solid foundation of spoken Arabic.

So I signed up for an Arabic conversation class, and I have been taking it twice a week since February. It isn’t a remarkable class, and I am still hardly able to string together a sentence, but it is a start.

The class is on Saturday and Wednesday from 5 to 7pm at the UAEU Islamic center.

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There are eight students in my class including myself (well actually 7 since once student stopped coming after the third week). Five of us are instructors at the University, one teaches at a high school, and one teaches a college. It feels weird to be a student again, but it feels especially odd being in a class where all of the students are teachers. I know I certainly would never want to teach a class of teachers.

Our teacher is an Emirati from Sharjah (another one of the states in the UAE). What can I say about him… hmm.. he tries. I will give him credit for that. We can’t be an easy group to teach. Plus the class is more like a non-credit community education class than a “real” class. There are no grades, no real homework (at least none that I did), no textbook, and no apparent organization.

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Actually, my biggest problem with the class isn’t the teaching style of the teacher – I didn’t expect to have the same kind of class as I had with my professor at Portland State University. No, rather my biggest issue is dealing with the other students.  During a two hour span of time, we barely get through any of the material because everyone has the attention span of a goldfish. I contribute some of this on the fact that it is the weekend (Saturday) or right after work (Wednesday). We are all busy, tired, and hungry. Some of the off topic conversations even lead to bits of helpful information, like why do people at the hospital address me as “sister”, where to find the souk with the freshest fish, and why do students insist on doing the “daqeeqa” gesture with their hands to us. But at other times (a bigger portion of the time), the lesson gets so off track that I feel like I am trapped in a poorly made sitcom. Here is an example of a typical conversation in my class:

Teacher: How do you say ‘house’ in Arabic?

Student 1: bait?

Student 2: Now is this for a big house or a small house?

Teacher: Just a regular house.

Student 3: But what if it is a really big house?

Teacher: Like a villa?

Student 3: Or a palace.

Student 4: Oh what about those houses you see as you drive to Dubai. What would they be called?

Teacher: Villa?

Student 3: That is like the Spanish word for villa. Oh I bet it originated from German. Or French. Probably at some point in history the people built houses like blah blah blah blah (I have tuned him out at this point)

Student 4: I saw a really big house with a huge garden once when I was driving to Dubai. It looked like it was out of a movie.

Student 6: Oh really, what movie?

Student 4: That one with that actor…(pointless details – tuned out again)

Student 5: Oh how do you say garden in Arabic?

Teacher: hadeqa

Student 2: Now is this for a garden for flowers or vegetables?

Student 6: But wait, did we ever find out the name of that movie?

Student 7 (who we have forgotten is even in the room at this point): So, the word for penguin is bataureq, right?

Student 1: What about house? Is it bait? And the next word on the list is shaqa, right?

All of this takes about 15 minutes, and at this point, it is still unclear if bait was the answer the teacher was looking for. Sigh. It has gotten to the point that the teacher has stopped giving us a break and we tend to stay late just to get through a small portion of the lesson he had planned. Obviously this is a classroom management issue, but again this is a community class – not a university level class.

On the positive side, I had my last class of the session this week and I managed to conquer one of my phobias. I have always had a serious fear of  giving a presentation in a foreign language. In fact, I dropped out two weeks before the end of Spanish 301 just to avoid giving a presentation. Okay so my Arabic presentation was nothing in comparison to what it would have been like to present on the Yanomami Indians  of Venezuela, but I will still call it a success. I was able to talk for about 5 minutes describing a map – prepositions of location, place names, colors, question formation, and possessive adjective review all wrapped into one. Apparently, despite all of the crazy banter, I have been able to learn something during the last two months!

Session two starts next week, and I will be taking it. I just have to remember three important things.

1. This isn’t a university class, and therefore, I should stop hoping for the class to run like one. It is what it is, and I will still learn some Arabic.

2. Some of the ADHD-like conversations actually end up teaching me good information about the country/culture I am living in.

3. I should not take any sharp objects with me to class (especially if I am grumpy because I haven’t had dinner). It would probably be frowned upon if I actually stabbed student 3 with my pencil out of sheer frustration.

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These are pictures taken while we were on our break (when we were still getting them). If I recall, I was enjoying the warmth of being outside as our classroom is overly air conditioned to the point that we bring jackets and socks just to keep from freezing. I think Christine was hanging on to dear life since she isn’t keen on heights. Or maybe she was holding the wall to keep me from dragging her back inside before finishing her cigarette.

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One Response to هل تتكلم العربية؟

  1. Pingback: ¡Hola! | Tori's Adventure

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