Category: Learning

Take two!

If you’ve been reading along, you may remember me talking about a study abroad program to Berlin that I had been accepted to for last Fall quarter. I wound up deciding to withdraw for several reasons – some that I won’t go into detail here (but quickly summed up as lack of faith in the organization of the program) and because Husband had just started working for himself and business was picking up quickly. He needs to travel for work at times and I didn’t feel I could go away for ten weeks leaving him to manage The Kid and work on his own.

I kind of gave up on the idea of studying abroad after that, it just didn’t seem in the cards, though he & I were still planning a Summer trip in Berlin.

But then.. I somehow got wind of another program, also in Berlin, but a Summer short program. Meaning that one, it would only be 4 weeks long and two, in Summer the kid goes to hang out with Grandmom for a few weeks. So… I applied. And I tried to just let fate take it’s course, but wow, I really really really really really really wanted this one. It was good that the last one didn’t pan out because otherwise I wouldn’t have looked at anymore programs and this one is PERFECT. This is the exact kind of thing I want to do. It’s service oriented program where we’ll be working with various refugee and immigrant groups on Berlin. I had to interview for this one so I got to meet the program leaders first and YES! Everything was falling into place. I liked them immediately and could tell they’d be great to work under. There are so many factors that make this program great – they encouraged German and Arabic language students to apply, which hopefully means I’ll be able to use both. And I’ve often said that I feel like Germany is going to be of growing importance in regards to the refugee situation and world affairs – this is where I want to go to learn and take part. All I see is wonderful opportunity when I think about this program.

It’s been pins and needles for the past couple weeks as I waited for decision time, but this afternoon I got the email. Once the program is over, Husband will come over so that we can hang and enjoy Berlin for a week or so after.

I have to say, I always have the attitude that if someone falls through or doesn’t pan out as you expect, that just means there’s better things coming around the corner. This attitude has served me well, so far…!!

!لحَمْد لله‎‎ا

لحَمْد لله‎‎ا means “Alhamdulillah!” which literally means “praise God!” “God” figures quite largely within the Arabic language, but I (and many Arabic speakers) are atheists so in that case it’s an exclamation of joy, for example: I’m feeling better – Alhamdulillah! The bus showed up on time – Alhamdulillah! I found some chocolate in the cabinet – Alhamdulillah! Or, in the case now… when I saw that grades were posted for the quarter, specifically my grade for Arabic 101, I exclaimed “Alhamdulillah!”

I knew that I did well enough but I wound up with a 3.9 or the quarter (that’s out of 4.0). I was expecting (or preparing myself) for less. I’m trying really hard to let go being the overachieving, 4.0 student but I still get a thrill out of making the Dean’s List, having a 3.9 overall GPA overall and for having done so well in the class that was most important to me (Arabic.)

Winter quarter has begun and I’m now in my second quarter of Arabic. Unlike the more popular languages such as Spanish, French, etc, Arabic has very few sections. I could have taken German 101 last quarter, skipped a couple of quarters, and then picked right back up with 102 a few quarters later. Not so with Arabic. You have to take the entire year sequence or forfeit everything you already did – meaning I could not take Arabic 101 and skip a few quarters before taking 102. 101 is ONLY offered in the Fall, 102 in Winter, and 103 in Spring. And since I chose to take section C, I have to stick to the exact same section (meaning same time) each quarter. I didn’t know that when I first registered last quarter. I had really wanted to take my required Junior Colloquium class with the teacher I had for City of the Future a couple of quarters ago (that class rocked my world and the teacher is amaaaaazing) but couldn’t because it was the same time as Arabic. I’m bummed about missing it BUT I am really psyched about taking a year of Arabic with the same group of students all year. I really love my Arabic group and it was such a nice feeling to walk into class for the new quarter knowing I’d be seeing all the same people. Major warm fuzzies there.

I’m still struggling a little bit with using Arabic as naturally at home, in daily life, as I had done with German or Czech or any other language I’ve learned but it’s getting better. As my vocabulary grows, I’m finding it easier to work Arabic into my routine. It’s an important part of learning language for me, making it feel natural. I’m still resorting to German, Czech, and Spanish words at times. As part of my attempt to adapt Arabic to every day use, I plan on starting to write some more here – even if just simple sentences that seem useless. It’s good practice. I’m getting better a the Arabic keyboard, too!

Also, I was waffling pretty hard about whether to take three classes this quarter or cut back to two. I had registered for the full three with the intention of attending all three classes during the first week and see how I felt. Arabic is every day and the other two classes were on Mon/Wed. When Wednesday rolled around and I looked at my schedule, I simply didn’t have the energy to manage the schedule that day (one hour break and then essentially 4 straight hours of class until dinner time.) So then and there I dropped the other class and had a few moments of panic before moving on to have a glorious afternoon. I left Arabic and, with three hours to kill, I hopped the light rail to my beloved Pioneer Square where I got some lunch at London Plane and worked on my Arabic vocabulary for the week. Then I hopped back on the light rail and headed back to school for my (now) second class.

Midway through this second class, as we reviewed the syllabus, I felt an incredible sense of relief. This second class – Immigration and Displacement with a teacher I’d been eager to take a class with – will be incredible, I’m sure. I think it’s going to be up there with my City of the Future Class (which is the best class I can ever remember taking.) HOWEVER… as with the City of the Future class, the amount of reading required is bordering on insane. (I’m a really fast reader, I don’t know how people do it who are not fast readers.) The reading is worth it and really interesting but… SO. MUCH. READING. My goal this quarter is to really focus on Arabic and had I kept the third class, that goal would have been shot to hell. (It was a class that would have also required a ton of reading.)

This year – on a personal note – ended on a pretty hellish note. Politically and personally, that is. Honestly, I needed a break and needed to enjoy school again. Aside from Arabic, the last quarter left me feeling somewhat deflated. But… BUT. This year is already promising to pick back up. I am a firm believer in learning from bad experiences and mistakes and I’ve always been willing to tackle things head on. We are most definitely making lemonade from the lemons that have rained down on us, things are shaping up to be better than ever (personally), school is exciting again, Husband’s business is doing pretty phenomenally, and… well, there’s another possibility on the horizon that I think I’m going to stay quiet about until it’s a done deal. I’m not even sure how I feel about it yet although, given my desire to keep it close to my chest I’d say I’m pretty excited about the prospect. I’ll know more by the end of February…!

الموسيقى العربية

These past couple weeks I’m consciously realizing that I need to begin to immerse in the Arabic language. As I’ve had to choose classes for the Winter quarter, I’ve decided that this class (Arabic) is the most important one and the one I need to invest the most in. (Since I’m hoping these two years of Arabic will become a useful skill and that I’ll hopefully be able to USE and refine the Arabic I’m learning.) I decided it’s worth sucking it up and only taking two classes next quarter, in order to really focus on Arabic. I have to admit, given how little time I’ve been able to devote to Arabic 101, I’m doing pretty well in the class. But I feel like I’m doing well enough for the tests, I don’t feel like I’m really absorbing the language like I do with other languages. That very well may be because it’s taught differently than other languages. But after spending a few months on German, I can easily pepper my day with German all over the place. I can watch German movies and make out many of the words and phrases, and I could have simple conversations and make myself understood.

What we’re doing in Arabic 101 is a little harder to work into daily practice. I mean, of course it took 4 weeks just to cover the alphabet but it’s not a communicative approach. The book that all the teachers are forced to use is ridiculous. (I mean, it just IS, as many Arabic learners will tell you. Al-Kitaab is ridiculous but at least we have the adventures of Maha! It’s so entertaining that we discovered someone made a Twitter account for her. I doubt you’ll find it entertaining unless you’re familiar with Al-Kitaab, though. Maha is SO LONELY.)

In any case, I’m sure I’d feel like I could communicate more if I were able to spend more time practicing throughout the day. I’m hoping to start practicing with some native speakers and hoping that next quarter I will be able to spend a good hour or more each day writing things out and really USING the language that I know. I wish I’d started learning Arabic during my first year so that I could get three years under my belt instead of two! But again, hopefully I will be able to use the language going forward and will continue learning.

Spanish was my first “second language” so when I started learning Czech, I would often default to or slip up and use Spanish when I didn’t know (or forgot) words in Czech. Then when we lived in LA and I was trying to help a man with directions in Spanish, he eventually started to look like he just wanted me to shut the hell up so he could escape and figure it out on his own. I then realized I was speaking Spanish with a bunch of random Czech words thrown in.

When I started learning German… hm. Well, oddly, I don’t remember having any language mix-up issues with German for some  reason. And I never got far enough into Japanese (I took a class a few years ago) or Russian (which I started learning when I was dating a Russian whose family liked to ply me with Russian vodka and teach me curse words almost two decades ago), I also didn’t get far enough into them to start mixing with other languages. (Also, the Japanese alphabet and Cyrillic alphabet were a piece of cake but Arabic took some time!)


At least a couple times a week I find myself reaching for words in either Spanish, German, or Czech. I’ve used Spanish to remember Arabic words. For example: The word for “money” in Arabic is “mal”. “Mal” in Spanish is “bad”. So I think “money is bad” to remember the word for “money” in Arabic. (Got all that?)

Then today! Today someone asked what the word (in Arabic) is for “sister” and I turned around and said, “Sestra!” Then I realized that’s Russian. I’m waiting until I start throwing some French or Portugues (which I know a fair bit of) Swedish (which I spent about a month learning on DuoLingo), Danish (another month of self learning), or Turkish (I learn a new word or phrase every few months). Yes. I am all mixed up.

But what I really wanted to say is this: Arabic is a scary language to most people. I get that. I put it off for over a decade. But you know what? If you have any interest in learning Arabic, then do it. Don’t be scared off by it. Sure, there’s a little more work to be done in the beginning but it is SO worth it. It helps that I’m in an awesome class – definitely find a good group to learn with (don’t do it on your own.) My teacher is awesome and a lot of fun and I really adore the group of students that I’ll be with for the rest of the the Arabic 100-level (101, 102, 103.)  I cannot say this enough: if you’re a person who loves learning languages and finds them fairly easy to learn, then the challenge of Arabic is so much more rewarding. And let’s face it, I love the reactions from people when I say I’m learning Arabic. (They usually think you must be some kind of crazy rock star language person.)

So – الموسيقى العربية is “Arabic music”. In my quest to immerse myself into Arabic, I am searching for some fun Arabic music to listen to. None of it will be in MSA (Modern Standard Arabic) which… well, let’s pause for a moment and “LOL” at the idea of Arabic pop music in MSA…   I’m going to ask my teacher for some music recommendations but in the meantime, I did some googling and found some stuff worth checking out. I’ve been collecting it all in this playlist but my favorite so far is the “Arabology” album from Yas: