For the love of language…

Wouldn’t it be amazing to actually boast that you can speak multiple languages as an African American woman or as a person in general? Absolutely!

Being multi-linguistic is my goal, learning is my mission. How and why? Well, read on!

I’ve always been very inquisitive about learning languages. Polyglots amaze me at their incredible ability to know, recognize and communicate among the international masses. My life abroad has fortunately been seasoned with the exposure of multiple languages and their unique sounds and nuances. I immediately knew that immersing myself in the culture and lifestyle of the UAE requires me to learn a bit more about the one language I never had any wish to learn: Arabic!

i can talk arabic

Arabic is the primary language in the UAE and has several dialects, which makes it even more difficult to master. I am a living witness that with patience, consistency and determination, even the most complicated situations can make sense.

As I already mentioned, I did not have the interest in learning Arabic. In my community in the US, I didn’t have any use for it. When I arrived in the UAE, I honestly thought, “Now how in the world am I supposed to EVER learn Arabic?” It sounded so complicated and overwhelming to say the least. It doesn’t even fall into the Indo-European, Romance or Germanic language categories, which makes it difficult for me, seeing that I’m a native English speaker. Both my ear and tongue  are innately trained to speak, read and write in English so learning Arabic was no easy feat. For this very reason, I plan to enroll my son in private Arabic lessons, even though he has a compulsory Arabic class at school.

arabic alphabet

Once you can identify these letters, making out words can be fairly simple.

Oh and did I mention that Arabic is not the only language that surrounds me. If you are familiar with anything UAE related, you know that its epithet could be the “Middle East melting pot” due to the fact that every nationality known to man lives here. For example, there is an abundant amount of Indians, Pakistani’s and Filipinos. Surprisingly, I can recognize Urdu, Hindi, Tagalog and Arabic in passing. I live in a truly multi-lingual society where I have no choice BUT to learn the basics of other languages! Okay, carrying on!

welcome in arabic

Eventually, I became frustrated after dealing with many language barrier conversations, not being able to communicate effectively during business and retail related inquiries and simply being taken advantage of. Therefore, I decided to take a beginner’s Arabic language course at a UAE University campus. This course primarily focused on the basic Arabic language fundamentals such as greetings, letters, numbers, etc. However, the instructor was passionate about teaching Arabic writing skills, which in hind sight, it’s not such a bad idea since practically everything is in Arabic! On the contrary, however, I was interested in showing off my Arabic speaking abilities to the first Arabic person who will listen, help and encourage me.  So with that being said, the writing aspect became auxiliary at that particular moment.

Taking this class opened many doors for me in terms of building relationships with some of the Arabic teachers at my school. For example, I would often communicate with this one particular Arabic teacher whom I befriended later, expressing both my elation and frustration of the challenges in the class. She motivated and encouraged me through it all by practicing daily with me, fixing my mistakes and providing corrective criticism. If I was going to learn this language, I had to develop thick skin and take the criticism.  She was very patient with me, teaching me new words, greetings and giving me further insight on the Islāmic culture and ways of life in the UAE. Everything was new to me then so receiving guidance from a local was more than appreciated. We are still very good friends to this day.


We live here!

By the way, did I mention that this teacher’s primary language is Arabic BUT she can also speak, read and write in English fluently? Amazing, right? What amazes me more is the fact that in most instances, people in the US are not taught a second language until high school, unless you are fortunate enough to receive a private school education.

I am estimating that at least 85% of the people who live in this country know at least 3 languages, including English. Now, they aren’t fluent, but can communicate enough to “get by” in business related situations.  Most of them don’t have degrees or lofty jobs and titles. Frankly, most of them don’t even own a business nor have opportunities to visit several countries. However, they have the ability to adapt to their unique, rich language environment so they can expand their overall opportunities.

people speaking multiple languages

Nearly 11 months later, I laugh at the above mentioned statement about Arabic being an insurmountable task to master. Although I am far from being fluent, I have come a very LONG way. I truly proud of the basic/conversational Arabic I have acquired thus far. I can understand basic conversations and can make out at a few words in fast speaking Arabic dialogs. I can now say I am moving more profoundly toward my goal of being a multi-linguist.

In my opinion, if you decide to move abroad, especially to a country that doesn’t speak your language, I almost feel that it is a necessity to learn a thing or several, for that matter, about their native tongue. Not only will you expand your language abilities, it can open doors for your future in terms of increased job opportunities, international networking options and favor! Yes, favor! Language is powerful. Do you know how much favor you will receive if you at least take the chance to learn the language? Let me explain.

arabic phrases

This is what I figured out upon arrival and have been learning ever since!

I went to a local Arabic cuisine restaurant yesterday and asked for Falafel. I just ended my vegetarian stint so this is usually my sandwich of choice. I asked for Falafel in English, and was told that it wasn’t available. I responded about this in Arabic, “Maufie Falafel? Mushkila!” (Please excuse my English interpretation of these Arabic words, by the way). They became very shocked and impressed at the same time. The expression on their faces said “This black girl speaks Arabic?” Would you believe that I had a delicious, ready-made Falafel sandwich in minutes? Some may call it prejudice…I call it favor. Believe me, speaking Arabic or any language as a black chick will take you far in this world. Period.

Same thing happened in another establishment. I had a brief dialog with a couple of workers at a local store I frequent. I think my bubbly, outgoing personality along with my eagerness to throw out a few Arabic words landed me a major discount! I am saying this to say, people tend to give favor toward people who step outside their box when it comes to being multi-lingual.

Living abroad has allowed me have an outlook from a global perspective. To this end, I am taking a proactive approach to being a true contributor to this multi-linguistic world where I can grow, learn, share and be heard! Now, I am proud to say I can speak English, Spanish and now….basic Arabic! Trust me, I am that motivated that the list WILL go on and on…watch me!

So in essence, Arabic is not easy to learn but can be learned like any other difficult task. You must work at it!

I hope that where ever you are in your life or travels, you are expounding on your greatest potential to forge relationships and learn languages so that you can become a true part of this multi-linguistic, global community! Happy language learning, potential polyglots!

As always, thanks for your visit!

I look forward to hearing about the languages you know or are planning to learn!


One thought on “For the love of language…

  1. hope149 says:

    What a very well written piece. I too think it’s importAnt to be able to communicate at the very least, your basic wants, needs and social comments, greetings,etc. I told myself I was gonna to get Rosetta Stone to teach some of the basics of Arabic, but there are so many dialects of Arabic, so I will do as you did and take a class and then Maybe Rosetta Stone. I will be moving to the UAE in September. I hope paths will cross.


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