[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.]
Another cycle is coming to an end – my eight-week Sijal evening course will soon finish, which means I'll be cobbling together a mixture of private lessons, independent study and activities, and perhaps a language partner again in the upcoming weeks and months. In these recent weeks taking evening courses and private lessons, I've been very glad to have guidance from Alex about how to structure my free study time – doing a single textbook, like we did at my previous course at Qasid, gave us a routine and filled our evenings with homework, but switching to a more self-directed study has given me both the freedom and responsibility to use it productively.
I feel that my weakest area is my ability to chat and that my speaking is trailing my listening and reading comprehension. Two points Alex has driven home to me is to make time to read out loud and to practice "shadowing," lip syncing to a recording and trying to imitate its intonation. I remember this being a wake-up for me when I was learning Portuguese in Brazil – somehow, not thinking "I am Taylor constructing the best sentences I can after semesters of Portuguese classes" but instead "I am imitating how a Brazilian would emphatically say this" both greased my confidence wheels and led people to pay attention and understand me, because it "sounded right." When I review my Anki cards over breakfast, I both read my sample sentences out loud and, when I've included an audio clip on the back of the card, try to say it in real time along with it. I've also worked on "shadowing" with the Colloquial Palestinian Arabic textbook, which includes nice long dialogues (some of which are too fast for my level, or, I can't lip sync speedily enough to them!)
I still feel like I have something like a "deer in the headlights" reaction when someone speaks to me and I don't have a response ready. Practicing when I know I have a certain phrase coming up, even if I just run through it once in my head (what Alex has called "planned spontaneity"), makes all the difference.
I generally have ants in my pants (hence going on seven years freelancing and fleeing office work), so I've been taking advantage of any interesting Arabic events or activities that come my way. For the past few weeks I've gone to a Thursday evening Evangelical church service, which has blown me away by how accessible both its sermons and songs are for my Arabic level. There's so much to be said for knowing one's context and making educated guesses at the words we're hearing – that's how I picked up that the ١٢ تلاميذ must be disciples and the word مجد repeated in our songs seemed to mean glory or glorify. It's also a nice mix of dialect and fusha, seemingly varying on whether the song leader/pastor is going for a charismatic or reverent tone.
Alex has also encouraged me to not let reading go to the wayside even as I focus on speaking, and he suggested I work with a play from Tawfiq al-Hakim, since the dialogue structure of a play is nicely accessible to a learner. It makes all the difference to have a lengthy text with a coherent story – there's many words I would not spell correctly or I'd waffle if asked to produce them on my own (or I wouldn't recall them at all), but a story full of coherent clues leads me to understand a pleasantly surprising amount. I've been reading الأيدي الناعمة, which is nice social commentary with easily recognizable themes and characters.
As my current Sijal course comes to a close, I've also been thinking about what kind of activities I want to take on next. I'm game for all things athletic, and the pocket-full-of-tricks coordinator at Sijal gave me a nice playlist of workout videos from the program دنيا يا دنيا.
I've also decided I want to give a language partner another shot. It helps that I met someone, a store clerk, whom I thought would be great – for several weeks after we first chatted about each learning Arabic and English, I thought about how dynamic and fluid our conversation was, and decided to return to the store to ask if she's like to meet up for an exchange. Some lessons I learned from my last attempt at this: choose a very quiet place (some coffee shops are not!), be stickler on dividing English and Arabic speaking times, decide on some topics beforehand, and be patient and resist the urge to finish someone's sentence for them, because very often we can find another path to express ourselves.