[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.]
I had a low low and a high high in the same week, in fact, one day after the other. I hope that may underscore that preparation and, after that, confidence/stubbornness are the motors for getting new words and sentences out of my mouth.
On Monday, I wrote in my daily study log that I was tongue-tied and could barely get a complete sentence out in class. On Tuesday, I happened to be the only person to show up to class -- and thankfully, I was prepared, having read the night's text and done our homework on making the أمر (command) and using what seems to be a bit obscure but indeed nice use of the أفعَلَ to express admiration or astonishment, like, ما ألذّ هذه الكنافة. That meant for three hours, I was one-one-one a teacher in each class (and, in fact, with an additional instructor, since an observer/trainee came along too). And for those three hours, I was a chatterbox. I talked about a vengeful husband who cast a spell on his wife to turn her into a donkey (we were, if these are a set of familiar references to you, on the "1001 Nights" chapter of Al Kitaab Two), traded commands with my professor (!كلي الحلويات العيد الحب), and described the Seven Wonders of the World with our new قواعد.
I make many, many mistakes. I routinely use incorrect prepositions, mispronounce words whose consonants I know but whose vowels I flub, and fumble conjugations. Alex has said that speaking a foreign language is 80 percent a confidence game, which felt like what happened between Tuesday and Wednesday, which was not a time when I got 80 percent better at Arabic.
On that note, a few helpful tools that helped me hit a high note this week:
Daily study log: I mentioned this above, and as simple as it is, it is useful to reflect on highs and lows and how I'm spending my time. Alex made an excel sheet that adds up my total times spent reading, in conversation, etc, each week. It also keeps me a little in check because when I use a timer to log how long an exercise takes me makes me a bit more efficient and, say, not give into some mindless cyborg urge to check my social media or Whatsapp because... if I do, then I'll kick myself when I see I took an hour and a half to do a simple exercise.
Reverso: I had been asking around for dictionary recommendations, and Alex turned me onto Reverso. I've seen this site before but haven't consistently. In addition to a translation, it includes a list of sample sentences of that word used in context. Many of their examples are short and punchy and easy to absorb even when I just need to look up a word while I'm in the middle of a reading assignment.
Time matters: Even a few extra hours a week need to be taken into consideration. I've decided, for the time being, to stop casual meetings I had been arranging with an language partner each weekend. One, I get a lot out of speaking to my teachers after class and with my fellow students, which I do twice a week when I stay for an extra conversational section at Qasid. And two, I was spending a lot of time getting to and from the weekend exchanges, loitering over ordering tea and trying to find cafes where without much smoke or noise. Exchanges for students at our level can be little disorienting without clear rules and intentions for what we will do, and Alex backed me up when I said I felt like we weren’t getting much out of our time, saying that he, too, didn’t usually find language partner arrangement to work well.
Time matters (2): Time also matters in the long run, and, after consulting with Alex several times, I changed my plans for how I will spend the next several months. I realized I would fear feeling overwhelmed or incomplete if I went to an intensive summer Arabic program in the United States, which is largely in fusha and starts in June. I also decided to leave Qasid after this term to focus exclusively on Ammiya in a new course and in private lessons. Alex's advice and answering my many questions about how to include and prioritize dialect in my language learning were invaluable to making that decision, even if he also made many arguments in favor of the summer program, which I plan to keep on my radar for a future summer.
I feel at peace with that choice because I've already been studying fusha for a year and a half, and I don't expect it to slip away from me if I still find ways to practice what is important to me. I've been speaking Portuguese for ten years and I still learn new things (the other day, "você parece estar comendo a sua língua," or, "you look like you're eating your tongue" – you look like you're having trouble expressing yourself); Spanish has been with me for half of my life and the same is true. Rather than honing my sights on some sort of “Well now I’m finished" endpoint, which the summer program had been in my mind beforehand, I’m reminding myself that language, like exercise, is useful to us precisely because we don’t are not trying to "finish" with it.