Learning Arabic through Immersion… in my School’s Cafeteria

Last week, the topic was digital terrorism, where we discussed cybersecurity in the Middle East. And before that, we talked about the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the late Saudi journalist who was killed in the Saudi embassy in Turkey.

No, this isn’t a Middle Eastern politics class. Rather, it’s my Arabic class!

Learning Arabic with a Skype tutor has giving me a level of flexibility that I have not yet experienced in any classroom environment. Every other school day, during my study hall period, I find a seat in my school’s cafeteria, and tune in for a remote lesson. My tutor, a Jordanian Arabic speaker who teaches through the program, Preply, works with me to develop my proficiency in Levantine Arabic.

If I look happy taking these notes, it’s because I really am!

After my summer in Jordan with NSLI-Y, I was desperate to retain the knowledge that I had gained on program. As I began to take regular lessons with my Skype tutor, I was surprised by the exponential language gains made under her instruction. Not only have I gained significant vocabulary, I have also been able to express myself using more advanced grammar and conventions! The secret: immersion.

Having spent six weeks in an intensive immersion environment, I did not think that I would be able to simulate the experience in the States. Thanks to technology, however, this became possible. My Arabic classes are not limited by a curriculum or a set of objectives. The only goal is conversation. Rather than going through actual vocabulary lists or grammar lessons, we start each class with a specific focus. Whether that means preparing for my next Model United Nations topic about the rights of journalists in developing countries, discussing honor crimes in the Arab world, or analyzing linguistic patterns in my favorite Arabic music, I am learning completely through conversation. I record unknown words in my notebook, and, what’s more, I absorb through imitation of native speech.

I am struck by the dynamism of my “classroom” environment. A conversation about Qatar’s viewpoint on cyber security soon morphs into a discussion of the perception Jordanians have of the Saudi Arabian people, while a chat about our favorite cultural dishes leads into a deep exploration of the Palestinian freedom struggle. Our discussions are an exchange of cultures and ideas. While my teacher provides the Jordanian and Palestinian perspectives on relevant issues, I in turn, contribute my knowledge of the American and Indian viewpoints. All in Shaami Arabic, of course.

I am also extremely thankful for the knowledgeable, interesting perspectives my teacher brings. As a young professional working at a translation firm, she has given me sound advice about college and work life.

My Arabic studies have made me all the more excited for the future. As I dig deeper into the colleges I have applied to, I am always on the lookout for a strong Arabic program. I am not just looking forward to taking intensive Arabic courses in the future, but I am also hoping to put the language in context, where I explore themes such as politics, gender dynamics, and diplomacy in the lens of the Arab World. I aspire for a level of proficiency in the future where I can learn about contemporary issues in the Middle East using the Arabic language as a medium. Inshallah everything will work out!

Also, here is the newest Arabic Quizlet set I made with some global affairs and current event vocabulary, for anyone who is interested! https://quizlet.com/318255476/global-affairs-and-current-events-flash-cards/

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