Small Victories in Language Learning

Posted by sue on November 9th, 2006

One of the funny things about living in Morocco, as a native English speaker, is how familiar and comforting French is, and I don’t even speak French. Even if you know some formal Arabic, as I do, Moroccan Arabic is very different and unless you put in some effort to study Moroccan Arabic as such, it’s hard to communicate with people around town. However, Moroccans also speak French, and they automatically speak French to white folk, so I just roll with it, ordering “cafe creme” instead of “qehwa belhleeb,” for instance, because it’s just easier.

For this reason, Morocco strikes me as an excellent place to learn French (and many of my fellow students at ALIF–mostly Americans–do speak French also), but not quite as good for learning Arabic. I have to force myself to read the Arabic on street signs and ads and grocery items rather than the familiar Roman letters of the French that are also on most things. Even though I know practically no French, there are so many cognates that it’s not that hard to figure things out when you see them in print (understanding the spoken language is a whole other thing, of course).

I am making progress, however, because my Arabic knowledge is overtaking my limited knowledge of French, and more and more often I use my knowledge of Arabic to figure out the French, rather than the other way around. Words in print are almost always Modern Standard Arabic, so that’s where my particular knowledge comes in handy. I may just learn this language yet.

6 Responses to “Small Victories in Language Learning”

  1. jim Says:

    Is there a Moroccan or Arabic equivalent to ‘gringo’?

  2. Cathy Says:

    You’re wasting your time. There are books at Barnes and Noble that can have you speaking Arabic in a mere 10 minutes a day!

    Len, is your French getting better?

  3. Jeanene Carvajal Says:

    Your posting reminded me of the first time I landed in Des Moines. I had dreamed about studying in the U.S. since the age of 13 and was inspired by a long list of Hollywood movies. I was looking forward to a life combined with “Better off Dead”, “Weird Science”, “St. Elmo’s Fire” and “Revenge of the Nerds”. After leaving one of the largest and most populated cities in the world to a “new adventure and life” at Drake I recall looking out the airplane window as it was landing and passing a corn filed, then pig farm, corn field, soybean field, corn farm and landing in what was a the flattest patch of earth I had ever seen in my life. All the time I was thinking, “What have I gotten myself into? What was I thinking?” The first week at Drake brought many rude awakenings and lessons – people did not look like the ones in movies – and there was no hot sauce. Frankly, my life that first semester was hard as I tried to get my barring in a new academic environment, different society and really different weather. The thought of going back to the life I knew was often on my mind and I believe that thanks to my naïve view point I was able to stick it out – sometimes it is best not to know what is ahead. Looking back it was probably one of the best lessons I’ve had in life. After all, I made great friends: Sue, Lil, Sean, Denise, Cheryl and Lisa. I also was able to do a lot things that I could never have done in Mexico like make a T.V. show with Sean, put “for sale” signs outside of Old Main, and nail something with a can of shaving cream. We’ve remained friends for over 10 years! (I haven’t heard the end of the shaving cream can either since then) If I had not taken that plane the chances that I would have met such good people, that I would have met people from all over the world (like Bushra and Manish) or that I would have pursued a life in the U.S. would have been null. You are having such amazing experiences, some are fun and some are tough, but they build character. I know that sounds pat, but it is true. One has to have a lot of chutzpa and gumption to turn their life inside out and upside down voluntarily – and a little of insanity too. You seem to be rolling with the punches and making the best of everything. I wish I could say that it will get easier with time, but one never knows. What I do know is that you are building a whole lot with very little. I hope your semester improves at school and life. Something I can say about my “studying abroad” experience was that we, no matter where we come from, have many common denominators and characteristics. I was lucky that I made friends with people from the U.S. and with the international students. At the beginning I was reluctant to make friends with the international students, mostly because I had this misguided idea that they would be crutch. Overtime I realized that both groups were compliments to my life, and the people I befriended enriched my experience. I hope that you find the same because those experiences are great.

  4. Diana Says:

    I’m enjoying reading about your adventures.

    I bought a $10 world languages software CD and learning some French to prepare for my visit next year.

  5. Tim Says:

    Hey Len,
    Bring me back a pack of those “cigarettes”

  6. Alexander Says:

    < a href = “ underclassman@gypll.strams“>.< / a >…


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