[This is a continuation of Taylor's blog series where she details some of the week-in-week-out lessons that she learns through her Arabic studies and coaching work together with me. For other posts in the series, click here.]
An encouraging friend said to me recently that learning a language is like peeling back the layers of an onion. I’ve been studying at Qasid for a month now, and her comparison helped me take stock of what’s happened since then – on a given day, often I can’t call up a specific new fact to tell you that I learned and mastered that day, but indeed I am learning, a lot. This week I gave a twenty-minute presentation to my class that I doubtlessly would have been incapable of doing before I started this program.
Speaking has been my biggest hurdle, and I’ve put a tip of Alex’s into practice over the past two weeks — to find five minutes a day to speak without stopping. I’d like to do even more than that, and Alex also suggested prompting myself with a picture and talking about it for an additional five minutes. But for the time being, the former is all I’m capable of fitting in between class, work, and homework. I’ve been meeting with one of my fabulous Qasid teachers and try to recap the day’s news for her, since I write a global newsletter each day and those events are fresh and relevant to me. We’ve gone over the Gambian electoral standoff, Donald Trump and the #MuslimBan, and the Chilean wildfires in recent days.
In general, I’ve also been taking up anyone on the opportunity to speak — the same teacher asked if I’d be a practice student for her to become an oral proficiency certifier, which meant we had a 45-minute one-on-one conversation, while another instructor offered to stay with students after our evening ammiya course to have a purely conversational section. To strengthen my speaking muscles, in the presentation I mentioned above, I went with Alex’s “planned spontaneity” approach rather that write it word-for-word ahead of time. I chose a topic that is easy for me — the history of Arab migration to Latin America — and wrote down a list of words I wanted to use during it, like تراث (heritage) and بارز (prominent), and glanced over my list between my powerpoint slides of pictures.
The next step I’d like to put into practice is getting more comfortable using the verbs I know and conjugating them correctly without having to pause and think them out. I see that I have my go-to words that I use the vast majority of the time that I speak, and I’d like to resist getting into a rut.
As per the advice of a teacher, I’ve also been incorporating an extra nice exercise into class — I keep a running list of the vocabulary I come across in class that are new to me (on my list now: مطابق, identical, الفرد, individual, مرادف, synonym) and, when our teacher prompts us to write a few sentences using whatever new grammatical concept we’re going over, I glance through my list and try to use a word or two. It helps me resist the tendency to rely on my go-to words. It’s nice because I have an easy time learning obvious picture vocabulary — like animals, food, etc — whereas I need to pay better attention to words that are a little more abstract.
Also, very nicely, since I have a midterm coming up that will cover five chapters worth of vocabulary, I’m feeling appreciative that Anki’s spaced repetition methods means that material is still in the cards I see each day. As per Alex’s encouragement, I’m pausing to come up with mnemonic devices for words that don’t stick easily for me. This is something I did routinely when I studied at a more leisurely pace and that I’ve left behind as I feel a little breathless.
Alex has also been helping me think about my next steps after Qasid and finding the balance that’s right for me between speaking/dialect and reading/writing/fusha. I’ll share more about that once I finalize my next plans.
I’m still as pooped as I was when I wrote my first entry, but whenever I catch myself veering into a self-indulgent pity-me territory, I do stop to remind myself: I may be having little in the way of leisure time these days, but, indeed, I did live in Rio de Janeiro for six years. And when I was in Rio, I dreamed of the day I'd be able to throw myself into my studies.