“Ma ismuka?” I asked my Syrian friend’s little brother, expecting him to answer with his name. He looked at me, confused. I had just made a big Arabic learner faux pas: dialect confusion.
As I had learned a while ago, there are two most common types of Arabic: colloquial and literary. Literary Arabic, or Fus’Ha is used in print, but is seldom spoken. Of the different Arabic dialects, the one I am learning is Shaami, or Levantine Arabic, which is spoken in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine. While earlier, it all sounded pretty simple in theory, I later realized that Fus’Ha and Shaami are basically two different languages. When I had tried to converse with my friend’s brother, I had presumed that the reason for his confusion was my accent. I now know that it was a dialect error. Instead of asking “Ma ismuka?”, which is Fus’Ha, I should have used “Shuu ismak?”, the proper Shaami phrase. As I started learning more and more vocabulary, I realized that using a textbook and some online resources wouldn’t cut it. Perhaps I could take some extra help.
I remembered something my French teacher had suggested to me when I was filling out my NSLI-Y application. After learning about my interest in Arabic, she had told me about Hanane, a fluent Arabic speaker who grew up in Lebanon, and is a student at our school. As I sat down to email Hanane, I was a little nervous. I had never talked to her before, and I wasn’t sure how she would respond. She emailed me back within minutes expressing a strong enthusiasm, and telling me that she was definitely willing to help me with Arabic! I was so touched by her kind gesture and support! However, there was one challenge. Hanane was unavailable after school, and we didn’t have a common study hall. With that, I decided to email our fourth and eighth period teachers to see if they could give us special permission to use advisory (a twenty-five minute period for announcements and studying) to practice Arabic. All of the teachers were extremely supportive of this, and without any hesitation, they allowed us to meet during advisory four times a week, and even let us use a conference room to have quite place to practice! For those who may not know, I go to a small charter school called Meridian, and this has been one of the many times they have supported me with my language endeavors!
This week was the first week of my Arabic sessions with Hanane, and I have already learnt so much! I have been bringing my Alif Baa textbook as well as my own Arabic notebook, so that I can take notes on what I have learnt. So far, we have covered self introductions, greetings, as well as asking and responding to “How are you?”. In addition, I have been learning some survival phrases so that I can ask how much things cost, where the bathroom is, and “Do you speak English?”. And of course, everything that I am learning with Hanane is in Shaami. In other words, these are real, authentic phrases that I will be able to use when I arrive in Jordan!
I am having a great time learning with Hanane, and I am so thankful for all of her help. Not only have I found her to be a great teacher, she is also becoming a friend. I am so excited for the coming weeks, and I will be keeping you all updated about my experiences!
Below, I have a picture of some of the notes that I took with Hanane. (Well actually, a lot of the Arabic was written by her, since it takes me a long time to write words.)