Maria* and Catherine* chat quietly in Swahili, while Noor* and Farida* speak to each other in Pashto. I sit in the middle, a student of Arabic and a native speaker of Hindi/Urdu. Leading a literature circle of English language learners has been challenging, exciting, and deeply rewarding to say the least. Furthermore, working with the girls has given me several intriguing linguistic experiences and lessons that I wanted to share today.
1) Languages can bring people together– even if they speak extremely different languages. As the five of us sat together, the linguistic barrier highly present, it was the book that brought us together. Not so much the book that we were reading, but rather the word “book” itself. As the girls talked amongst themselves, one thing became extremely clear to me: “kitaab” is book… in Urdu, Arabic, Pashto, Swahili, Farsi, and probably a few other languages. The shared word was a surprise for all of us. Suddenly, the girls, once quiet, were marveling at the small vocabulary similarity, and exchanging other words in their native languages.
2) You know more foreign language vocabulary than you think. As we sat reviewing new words on Thursday, Noor, who is a little more proficient than Farida, took upon the role of translating confusing phrases for her friend. As I explained the word “allowed” to the girls, Noor conveyed its Pashto equivalent: “tez”. Thanks to Hindi/Urdu, I was able to intervene. “Tez” is the translation for “loud” or “aloud”, so luckily I was able to explain the difference between the two homophones. The girls were obviously surprised to see me catch the error!
3) It’s possible to get Farsi immersion in Austin, Texas. At GirlForward, most of the girls are from Afghanistan, making Farsi/Dari the lingua franca of camp. Just by listening to the girls, I’ve been able to gather some frequently used words and phrases such as “girl”, “sit”, “What is?”, among others. My original plan for the summer was to spend my months studying Farsi with a tutor. Although I wasn’t able to do that due to my internship with GirlForward, I am spending each summer day with at least 15 girls who speak Farsi as their first or second language, so it all worked out!
This is probably one of the shortest posts I have written on my blog! My brevity is undoubtedly a product of working eight hours every day, trying to get a good amount of college apps done, drafting my IB Extended Essay, and other almost-one-week-before-senior-year-starts struggles. Inshallah I’ll be able to reflect more about this next week!
*Names changed to protect privacy