Arabic Language Update: I did it! (Almost)

My Beeminder accountability graph showing how I reached my goal for a study challenge in June

My Beeminder accountability graph showing how I reached my goal for a study challenge in June


Just a short post as I'm off away on an intensive language course for most of the next three months. This is the programme run by Middlebury College, but held in Oakland, California (USA) at Mills College. I was extremely lucky to win a Kathryn Davis Fellowship which covers the costs of the course and food and accommodation while I'm there. I have a BA degree in Arabic and Farsi from London's School of Oriental and African Studies, but 10 years in Afghanistan spent writing books and studying Dari and Pashto meant that my Arabic has atrophied considerably. I thought it was time to resurrect those old skills, in part as a way of deepening my understanding of some of the religious aspects of the Afghan Taliban and in part -- let's be honest here -- as a way of covering my bases prior to Afghanistan completely falling off the map a few months from now.

I'll be writing a much longer post on how to get a high-beginner-to-mid-intermediate level out of the well-known "intermediate language plateau" after the course finishes, specifically focusing on what resources are available to Arabic-language students who have good basic skills but want to go beyond that to more advanced materials. (Read these three posts for more on getting out of language plateaus in general terms.)

The Middlebury course caters to various levels of language ability, and since I didn't want to waste the opportunity just revising things I had already learnt at university, I had to do a good deal of preparatory work these past few months. I started getting serious about this preparation in February. This involved over 75 hours of spoken/conversation practice (and some grammar work) with a number of different native Arabic speakers over Skype (lessons made possible through iTalki.com), as well as a lot of reading and listening. In June, as you can see on the Beeminder graph displayed above, I challenged myself to get 100 hours of exposure to the Arabic language over a period of 30 days; this included some iTalki lessons, but was also a lot of listening to Arabic-language podcasts, time spent writing on lang-8 and lots of time spent doing so-called "extensive reading" (much more to follow on that in August/September). I managed 99.5 hours, in total, just short of the total required to successfully complete the challenge I'd set myself, but enough to really make my language proficiency come along in leaps and bounds.

An additional note to those who would like to get in touch with me during this period: as part of the Middlebury course, they expect participants to take a language pledge where you only speak the language of study (i.e. Arabic for me) for the duration of the period of study. Read more here. For non-Arabic speakers, if you want to get in touch with me, please visit Google Translate and translate your message into Arabic there before copying the full text and pasting that into the email. It's not perfect, but it allows me to continue to stay connected with the world without violating the language pledge. If I reply, I'll be doing that in Arabic, too, so you'll have to copy the text back into Google Translate to get a sense of what I replied.

I'll be away on the course until the end of August, and will thus ignore all non-essential email until then. If you write to me in English, I will also ignore your email until September. Thank you.

UPDATE: I now offer one-on-one language coaching. Read more about what it involves and what kinds of problems it's best suited to addressing.