Sunday, February 13, 2011

On motivation and Arabic as a lingua franca

(image from hamza text says alif, baa, taa aka a,b,c)

So, when faced with an upheaval to a new country it makes sense to prepare as best you can. Usually this involves vaccinations and then learning a bit of the local lingo, right? Well, this’ll be the first time that I have made such an effort to engage with a language before arriving in a new country. Historically my approach has been to flick through the guide book’s ‘useful phrases’ on the plane or ask someone to teach me on the plane how to say “hello”, “how are you?” “How much is it?” “thanks” etc...This ‘needs must’ approach has served me well, on a practical level thus far, though of course it has limited the kinds of interaction I have. My reliance on minimal language, strong socio-cultural competence, and interpersonal communication skills has done me alright so far. This time, however, it’s quite the opposite approach. I am starting at the bottom and working up, and learning the alphabet sound by sound, letter by letter. I haven’t learnt much in the way of phrases yet and funnily enough it’s hard work!

The reason for all the fuss is probably linked to my motivation. I view Arabic as one of the great global languages, up there with English, Spanish, French and Chinese, in the sense that it can really be used worldwide. No offence to Thai and Bulgarian speakers, but Arabic is just a bit more useful to my future. Perhaps more importantly, I have a lot of emotive, personal reasons for wanting to learn it. Part of this stems from my anti-war persuasion and my country’s foreign polic, partly it is a response to the misrepresentations of and discrimination against Muslims in my country of birth and worldwide. I shan’t go into it in too much detail as this blog is about learning, but needless to say I feel positively towards the Levant and most ‘native speakers’ of the Arabic language who I have met. This would be described as integrative motivation by some. It helps having this or any kind of motivation.

Although it was talked about for months, it wasn’t until that the search began for ways to learn Arabic. I contacted my friend Jessie who had returned from a trip around the Muslim world and his advice was to learn MSA Modern Standard Arabic, okay, a start, but the vast number of ‘Arabics’ that exists is instantly problematic. Which to learn? Which is best? Well like English, none is better, each is just more widely used in different parts of the world and speaking another variety of English will lead to you standing out where the other is dominant. I am not sure if the difference between say Algerian Arabic and Emirati Arabic is more or less pronounced that say the difference between Scottish and Indian English, I guess time and experience (and maybe you) will tell. Syrian Arabic will be our target, preferably with a strong London accent.

Jessie also mentioned that Syrians were amazingly friendly and that Levantine Arabic was widely used and understood so we would be well placed learning how to speak the Levantian version. Ah, the royal ‘we’, yes, ‘we’ are on a mission to conquer the language, me and my girlfriend. Her name is lady Love, she has the job that is taking us there and thus represents the main reason why we need to learn Arabic. And, no, I’m not complaining :O).

We borrowed books from family and friends and these teach yourself Arabic DVDs & CD-ROMS, Rosetta Jones (sic), and Talk Now did much more than gather dust for the autumn months in and amongst the MA books.


  1. Teresa (from Dublin)February 14, 2011 at 2:21 PM

    حظا سعيدا

    (or good luck, according to Google)

    when are you moving?

  2. Hey Terry :O)
    thks 10 days and counting....